Scientists trace bird migration with tech

New technology, combined with the shrinking size of tracking chips and batteries, are allowing scientists to remotely monitor animal movements in much greater detail than ever before. (June 10)

Video Transcript

EMILY WILLIAMS: Today we are netting for robins. We're hoping to capture individuals and hopefully tag them if they weigh enough with satellite tags to be able to track their migratory pathways.

PETER MARRA: In order to look at how birds migrate and and why they migrate, we've got to attach things to their backs that actually communicate to satellites going around the Earth. So we put these tags on the backs of these birds that communicate their location to the satellite. We're trying to understand why they migrate, where they migrate, what the drivers of migration are. We would hope to understand how they might be responding to various forces of environmental change, such as climate.

EMILY WILLIAMS: You know, like it's really variable. Like some-- Less than a gram right there. 70 [? points. ?]

Put the bird in the bird bag while I get everything ready that I want to for measuring and banding and all that. So what's really cool about robins is that you have some robins that are migratory and some that aren't. So then they form this natural basis for comparison.

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Once it's on the bird, then you can sit back in front of your computer and then effectively get the locations as the bird moves throughout the year.

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MARTIN WIKELSKI: We are trying to establish the internet of animals, and that really capitalizes on the collective behavior of the swarm intelligence of animals. And that can tell us, for example, where is climate change most dramatic? It can tell us where diseases are hiding but also where diseases are spreading. And that's more important than weather forecast, or it's basically a live forecast of what's happening.

EMILY WILLIAMS: We use this technology, put it on the birds, and they will be our Earth observers. And so we can use the information that we're getting from these tags to really figure out like, how are they navigating through these landscapes? Hopefully we can use the robin to apply to a lot of different species.