Life Tags: Solar Tags Track Migration Patterns in Birds

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The sight of a bird soaring effortlessly across a clear blue sky epitomizes the idea of freedom. While most of us don’t think twice about where the birds fly off, patterns of migration are crucial to preserving this wildlife. Researchers at Cornell University have created a less invasive way of following their travel patterns by developing a solar wildlife tag, small and lightweight enough to do so.

The Problem with Traditional Bird Trackers:

Batteries that power wildlife trackers can be too heavy for small bird species, rendering them ineffective for long-term tracking. Through the use of solar technology, the researchers use chips that coordinate a process of transmitting signals. The new tags weigh less than a gram through this technology. What they did was get rid of the battery entirely to eliminate the potential baggage associated with traditional wildlife trackers.

How They Work and Why They Are significant:

They are called Life Tags, and can be permanently attached to birds without hindering their flying abilities. This allows researchers to track small birds during their entire lifespan. They will be able to father data on migration routes, movements between their natal sites to where it first breeds, and its overall dispersal patterns.

By knowing where the birds travel and how they divide their times, scientists can come to understand how their biology is affected and the influencers on its longevity.

Factors That Affect Bird Migration:

Climate warming is leading to earlier nesting and hatching each year. This is linked to advancing migration in bird species. Birds that hatch earlier will have increased time to develop the condition needed for proper migration, allowing them to find good places to spend the winter.

The volume of birds that are on the move is affected by regional weather patterns. In addition to cold temperatures, and precipitation, wind patterns are also a significant determinant to migration. If it is too windy, birds find it difficult to fly and birds will wait for more favourable winds before taking off.

Challenges With This Technology:

But like any new technology, this still has its potential issues. The challenges associated with small solar tags are that they do not have the power needed to connect with a satellite, limiting their rage to a mile or two. This requires receivers to be placed in areas that they determine birds to migrate. To combat this, researchers are testing the idea of using larger birds to track smaller birds. They are calling this “VultureNet.”

How it will work:

Turkey vultures who have a battery-run receiver tuned to the frequency of the Life Tags will share migration routes with the smaller birds that researchers want to study.

For example, when the bigger bird flies within a mile of the smaller bird who is wearing the Life Tag, it will transmit the tags ID and the GPS location and time to a satellite tower. This will allow researchers to collect data from remote locations.

We think this is a great idea to keep an eye out on our birds and to ensure their survival.



About Author

Nadia Zaidi

Nadia Zaidi is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work is featured in several print and digital publications. She previously developed and hosted a show on youth issues for community television, and produces short-documentaries for public outreach. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ryerson University.

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