A New Hi-Tech Tool for Bird Conservation - Geolocators

In an earlier post I talked about a bird conservation tool called Leg Flags. This data is used to track birds during migration, so that important stopover and wintering or breeding grounds can be protected. I learned recently of a little gizmo that is being called "a revolutionary new tracking device, one that is rapidly changing our knowledge of bird migration" (BirdWatching, April, 2013). It caught my attention because this breakthrough can be the foundation for furthering bird conservation goals for previously unstudied (untracked) birds, so I decided to investigate.

These tiny, battery powered devices are called geolocators. They are embedded on an innocuous tag that sits on the backs of the bird to be studied. The data that the geolocator captures is the level of light versus time. This data permits plotting the position of the bird over time, as day length varies with latitude, and solar noon (or sunrise) varies with longitude.

Here is an informative video which show you what the geolocator looks like and how it is attached to the bird:

So how is this data used? Here is an article that details the utility of geolocators: Case Study: Geolocators reveal new wintering areas of European Nightjar. It is very simple, if you don't know where the birds wintering (or breeding) areas are, you cannot protect them, if you do, you can.

Misinformation about wintering areas corrected by geolocator data  (From Case Study referenced above)
So that gets you started on the topic of geolocators. Clicking on any of the links above can yield more information for the interested reader. I hope you learned something useful about birds and bird conservation!

July, 2014 update to this article:

First ever geolocator results for a Semipalmated Sandpiper revealed.

Here are the highlights from its journey:
23 June, 2013.  The geolocator is placed on the bird by Brad Winn, a member of a Manomet shorebird science research team, at Coats Island, Nunavut, Canada.
21 July, 2013.  Arrives in James Bay, where it fattens up for its upcoming long flight to South America.
22 August, 2013.  Leaves James Bay for a six day nonstop flight to South America.
28 August, 2013.  Arrives at the Orinoco Delta, on the border of Venezuela and Guyana.
10 September, 2013.  Leaves for a relatively leisurely 11 day flight along the coast to Brazil.
21 September, 2013.  Arrives in Brazil for the winter (northern winter, but summer in Brazil).
3 May, 2014.  Leaves Brazil for a series of flights north, including stops in Cuba (May 6), Florida (May 10), Georgia (May 11), North Carolina (May 14), and Delaware Bay (May 21).
2 June, 2014.  Arrives back in James Bay for the last stopover on its return journey.
10 June, 2014.  Leaves James Bay for the final leg of its return journey.
11 June, 2014.  Arrives back at its Coats Island breeding site.
18 June, 2014.  The bird was re-captured by Brad Winn and Shiloh Schulte, its geolocator was removed, and it was released to begin its next odyssey!


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