Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated about the prodigious migratory capabilities of birds. Recent innovations in tracking these patterns by scientists are dramatically adding to our understanding of the migration pattersn. As this New York Times story start out reporting:
Now researchers think they have cracked it with a novel device — a tiny bird backpack that contains sophisticated sensors and weighs less than a dime."
The new technology has opened up vast new possibilities for bird researchers. Already, it is yielding surprising findings — for example, that some birds fly even faster than previously thought.
But its real importance, biologists say, is the opportunity to unlock mysteries of bird migration that could help preserve species threatened by habitat loss and climate change."
Here's more on the technology itself, pictured on the left in this BBC News article:
The instruments Dr. Stutchbury uses actually weigh even less and sit on a bird’s back, just where the hips are.
Each sensor is about the size of the nail on a person’s pinkie. “There’s a little loop that goes around each leg,” she said. “It would be like you wearing a backpack.”
"...The research, reported Friday in the journal Science, involved 34 birds, but only 7 were recovered with their sensors.
Still, the work “is an important step,” said David W. Winkler, an ornithologist at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, where he said researchers were developing similar techniques. “This represents a whole new level of accuracy,” Dr. Winkler said.
The tracking system relies on
instruments called solar geolocators that collect and store data on
where the birds are in relation to the sun.
Researchers remove the
sensors, download the information and calculate where the birds were,
and when they were there."
As this Washington Post article explains, the data is not received real-time:
"The devices could not transmit data in real time, but they recorded the exact time of sunrise and sunset, allowing the researchers to download the data later and calculate where each bird was on any given day."
The results have been surprising to say the least:
The first study has resulted in round-trip tracking of seven birds, for the first time anywhere. More studies are apparently under-way, and should go a lot further in helping understand this fascinating subject.