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Scientists give birds small metal backpacks to study migration – NBC10 Philadelphia

A plump Robin, wearing a small metal backpack with an antenna, flies around the suburban yard of Takoma Park, Maryland, picking cicadas from the ground and eating snacks.

Ecologist Emily Williams looks through the binoculars from behind the bush. On this sunny spring day, she is snooping on his dating life. “Now I’m watching if he finds a companion,” she said, scrutinizing his interaction with another Robin in a nearby tree.

As the bird moves at the end of the season, she uses her backpack to send frequent location data to the Argos satellite and then back to Williams’ laptop for tracking.

The goal is to figure out why some American Robins travel long distances, but others don’t. Based in Georgetown University, Williams said, with more accurate information on successful nesting and conditions in breeding and wintering areas, “relative genetics and environment in shaping the reasons for birds to migrate. You should be able to know your role. ”

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, you can watch a lot of TV and Netflix while you’re at home. So why not try something new? Even though I lived in an urban apartment, I checked in to the Audubon Society to learn bird watching from home.

Placing a beacon on a bird is nothing new. However, the new antenna on the International Space Station and the receptors on the Argos satellite, as well as the reduced tracking chip and battery size, allow scientists to remotely monitor the movement of songbirds in greater detail than ever before. It was.

“We are in a golden age for bird research,” said Adrian Doctor, an ecologist at Cornell University who is not directly involved in Williams’ research. “It’s pretty amazing to be able to satellite Robin with smaller and smaller chips. Ten years ago, that was unthinkable.”

The device worn by this Robin can accurately locate within about 30 feet (about 10 meters) instead of about 125 miles (200 km) of the previous generation tag.

In other words, Williams can tell not only if the bird is still in the city, but also which street or backyard it is in. Or did you fly to land on the White House lawn from the suburbs of Washington, DC?

The second new tag is for the heaviest Robin only and contains an accelerometer that provides information about bird movement. Humidity and barometric pressure may also be measured in future versions. These Icarus tags work with the new antenna on the International Space Station.

The antenna was first turned on about two years ago. “But due to a malfunction in the power supply and computer, it had to be re-loaded with a Russian rocket and then transported from Moscow to Germany for repair,” said Maxplank Animal Behavior, a science team refining its skills. Martin Wickelski, director of the institute, said. After “normal troubleshooting in space science”, the antenna was replaced this spring.

As researchers deploy precision tags, Wikelski envisions the development of the “Animal Internet” —a collection of sensors around the world that gives us better images of the movement of life on Earth.

The robin is a symbolic songbird in North America, and its bright song is a harbinger of spring. Still, that mobility habit remains a bit strange to scientists.

Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University, said: “We have a general idea of ​​migration, a range map, but that’s a really broad impression.”

According to an early study by Williams, some Robins are long-distance migrants, flying more than 2,780 miles (4,480 km) between Alaskan breeding grounds and the winter season in Texas, while others. Fly around one backyard for most of the year.

What are the factors that migrate some Robins and those that don’t? Is it related to available food, temperature fluctuations, or successful mating and breeding of chicks?

Williams hopes that more detailed data from satellite tags and a record of successful nesting will provide insights, and has conducted a three-year study with partners tagging Robin in Alaska, Indiana, and Florida. I am.

Scientists used to equip larger birds of prey with GPS tracking devices, but this technology has only recently become small and lightweight enough for some songbirds. The tracking device should be less than 5% of the animal’s body weight out of the way.

In the garden of Silver Spring, Maryland, Williams spread a nylon net between tall aluminum poles. As Robin jumps into the net, she delicately unravels the bird. Then she holds it in a “banders grip”. Place your index and middle fingers loosely on both sides of the bird’s neck, and two more fingers around your body.

With a tarpaulin, she measures Robin’s beak length, cuts out the toenails, and picks the tail feathers to measure overall health.

Then she weighs the bird in a small cup on the scale. This weighs about 80 grams and is slightly above the threshold for wearing a penny-sized Argos satellite tag.

Williams makes a temporary saddle with a transparent jewelry cord wrapped around each of the bird’s paws. Then she tightens the cord so that the tag fits snugly on the bird’s back.

When she opens her hand, Robin jumps onto the ground, takes a few steps under the pink azalea shrub, and then takes off.

In addition to providing a very accurate location, satellite tags send data that can be downloaded from a distance to Williams laptops. It was not possible to retrieve the old tag data unless the same bird was recaptured the following year. This is a difficult and uncertain task.

Wilkeski hopes that new technologies will help scientists better understand the threats facing birds and other creatures from habitat loss, pollution and climate change.

Ben Freeman, a biologist at the University of British Columbia’s Center for Biodiversity Research, said: Better information about the migration corridor “helps you find the right place.”

According to a 2019 study co-authored by Rosenberg at Cornell University, North American wild bird populations have declined by nearly 30% (3 billion birds) since 1970.

He said bird tracking helps explain why. Exposure to pesticides in Mexico, deforestation in Brazil, or what people are doing here in the US backyard? “


The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Scientists give birds small metal backpacks to study migration – NBC10 Philadelphia

Source link Scientists give birds small metal backpacks to study migration – NBC10 Philadelphia

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