Geolocators track bird migration routes

Bridget Stutchbury is tracking songbirds with cutting-edge technology: tiny light-level logging geolocators.

Every July, Bridget and her team band the birds with the geolocators and these tiny devices become luggage on the birds’ expansive migratory journey, recording light levels from the sun every two minutes, twenty-four hours per day. The technology translates sunrise and sunset times into longitude and latitude so Bridget knows where the bird was when.

These devices don’t send data, they store it, so to learn anything Bridget needs to get the geolocators back. This coming May Bridget will be in Erie, PA to remove geolocators from the birds she banded ten months earlier.

Last July the SongbirdSOS team was with Bridget when she banded the purple martins that were on their way south. She talked about the surprising results she has collected so far. “We’ve seen birds that have travelled from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast in only two days.” That’s 1300 kilometres.

Bridget thinks this data will shake up ornithologists’ models for songbird migration patterns. These birds are flying much faster than she ever thought they could fly. She thinks it may have to do with stiff competition over mates and nest sights.

Understanding the timing of the Purple Martin’s migration route is critical – with climate change altering the timing of the seasons, the survival of the species is at risk. “Climate change is a new threat for songbirds,” says Bridget. “Some of our studies will show that they’re going to have trouble timing their migration to match the changes from one spring to the next. It’s not very good news for some of these songbirds.”

Lights Out for Earth Hour will save migrating birds

Earth Hour is tomorrow! On Saturday March 29 between 8:30 and 9:30 thousands of homes and businesses across the planet will be turning off their lights to celebrate their commitment to the planet.

Humans should of course be concerned about the affect that light pollution and overuse of electricity will have on the environment every day of the year. Light pollution can be deadly for songbirds as they migrate at night. The Fatal Light Awareness Project (FLAP) estimates that between 100 million and 1 billion birds are killed due to window collisions in North America every year.

So even if it just for one hour, Earth Hour helps provide safe passage for migrating birds during spring migration season.

FLAP has just launched a new tool to alert people to the concentration of birds as they fly through the Great Lakes Region. Bird Migration Tracker can let people know to turn lights out at night and treat windows during the day. Bird Migration Tracker is free and available online, try it out yourself on FLAP’s website.

The tool is a live-streaming Web page that displays current weather conditions, moon phase and weather radar. Flocks of migrating birds are so highly concentrated that they appear on weather radar!

Alert levels range from low to extreme and are determined by a compilation of indicators displayed on the webpage. It is imperative to turn lights out at night during Heavy to Extreme intensity alerts.

Have you used Bird Migration Tracker? Tell us what you think.

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