Amazing technology defies untold odds to identify bird migrations

The migration is underway. The birds have begun to leave Maine. For the next two weeks, the trickle will turn into a torrent. Where will everyone go?

Good question. Birds are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. In North America alone, almost three billion birds have disappeared in the last 50 years.

Collisions with man-made structures and outdoor cat predation account for much of the decline, but habitat loss is likely the main cause. For migratory species, both their summer and winter habitats must be conserved if we want to stem the trend.

That’s how Emily Filiberti found herself interning at a nature reserve in Jamaica a few years ago. Filiberti is now a graduate student at the University of Maine. She spent this summer in Wisconsin tracking golden-winged warblers, a species that is disappearing even faster than most other birds. That’s where she made an amazing discovery.

Last spring, Filiberti and his team captured some of the golden-winged warblers in the research area and equipped them with Nano Tags. These tiny transmitters are part of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, a technology less than a decade old that takes advantage of miniaturized electronics. The transmitters are so small that they can be attached to the butterflies.

Suddenly, the receiving station picked up the signal from a different species, a female redstart that had been tagged in Jamaica. In fact, she had been tagged two months earlier by her old supervisor, at the exact same place where Filiberti had studied.

Leave a Comment