Advanced tech takes flight to track migratory birds

Mar 01, 2013 by Paul Mayne

What exactly happens when migratory birds travel from Point A to Point B, and all the stops and starts along the way? Those are questions a new $3.4 million project led by Western's Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR) hopes to answer.

"Approximately 80 per cent of Canada's birds are migratory, and many species have been declining for decades, some by over 70 per cent," said Biology professor Chris Guglielmo, one of the on the project. "We need to understand how Canadian are structured across the landscape, why they are changing and how they can be protected for future generations."

The project, titlted AFAR Takes Flight, will allow researchers to achieve their primary goal of understanding the connections between breeding, migrating and wintering locations for all of Canada's birds by 2030.

This multi-faculty, multi-institution project brings together Western's faculties of Science (Biology, Earth Sciences) and Social Science (Psychology), as well partnerships with the University of Guelph and Acadia University, each of whom contributed part of their Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) funding to the proposal.

On the global scale, AFAR will team with Vogelwarte Radolfzell, a principal investigator from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. Radolfzell leads the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) initiative.

Just as it sounds, the new technology will be capable of tracking birds, as small as , from space by using /receivers and should be operational next year.

"This new ICARUS project has money from the and can use low-orbit receivers that would be able to detect a 1.5-gram transmitter, as opposed to a 15-gram transmitter," Guglielmo said. "Now, I can take this individual bird, particularly if it's an endangered species, and I can exactly track it for a full year – where it goes and if it dies, is it on migration over the Gulf of Mexico, does it make it to the wintering area and then die there? It will answer so many questions.

"With a one-year lifespan, we will be able to continuously track birds as small as 20-40 gram over thousands of kilometres and between multiple continents."

AFAR will be the first group in North America to take advantage of this space technology.

Closer to home, Guglielmo will work with Geography professor Fred Longstaffe and his stable isotope facility. By measuring such elements as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen levels in the feathers and other tissues of birds, the team will be able to reconstruct movement and probability patterns for virtually every migratory bird breeding in Canada.

Digital telemetry arrays are ground-based systems used to directly measure movements of a large numbers of animals simultaneously and, using sophisticated computing, in real time.

Numerous receivers and radars will track marked birds in Ontario, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, and communicate and analyze data through new high-performance cloud computing at Western. Computer Science professor Mike Bauer will create the necessary software and algorithms to collect, filter and analyze the huge amount of data that will be generated by the telemetry array.

Guglielmo said many migrants are threatened and the data collected will give Canada the information it needs to conserve its natural heritage of as its population and economy grow.

"Changes in climate and land use are threatening many migrants, and the goal of this project is to understand how Canadian bird populations are structured across the landscape, why they are changing, and how they can be protected for ," he said.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Are some rainforests too rainy?

Apr 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Tropical birds migrate to escape the weather While some bird species migrate thousands of miles annually, others follow a much shorter migratory route - specifically, up and down tropical Costa Rican mountains.

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

23 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.