Science and Nature

Scientists hail golden age to hint chook migration with tech


The antenna of an Argos satellite tag extends past the tail feathers of a female American robin as she feeds a worm to her hungry nestlings on a front porch in Cheverly, Md., Sunday, May 9, 2021. A new antenna on the International Space Station and receptors on the Argos satellite, combined with the shrinking size of tracking chips and batteries, are allowing scientists to remotely monitor small animal and songbird movements in much greater detail than ever before.
1of21The antenna of an Argos satellite mark extends previous the tail feathers of a female American robin as she feeds a worm to her hungry nestlings on a entrance porch in Cheverly, Md., Sunday, May 9, 2021. A delicate antenna on the International Dwelling Set apart and receptors on the Argos satellite, blended with the disquieted size of monitoring chips and batteries, are allowing scientists to remotely visual show unit small animal and songbird movements in important elevated detail than ever sooner than.Carolyn Kaster/AP
An American robin sits in a nylon net at sunrise, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams uses nets to catch robins and possibly fit them with an Argos satellite tag.
2of21An American robin sits in a nylon discover on the starting keep gentle, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams makes use of nets to resolve robins and presumably fit them with an Argos satellite mark. “It’s fabulous how microscopic we learn about a couple of of the most frequent songbirds,” talked about Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell College. “We hang now got a frequent conception of migration, a selection scheme, but that’s in actuality perfect a mountainous affect.”Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams gently untangles an American robin from a nylon mist net Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Williams is gathering data and samples to possibly fit the bird with a Argos satellite tag. The technology has only recently become small and light enough for some songbirds.
4of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams gently untangles an American robin from a nylon mist discover Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Williams is gathering recordsdata and samples to presumably fit the chook with a Argos satellite mark. The know-how has simplest honest at the moment became small and lightweight ample for some songbirds.Carolyn Kaster/AP
Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams gently lowers an American robin into a plastic cup on a scale as she gathers data and fits the bird with an Argos satellite tag, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Tracking devices must be less than 5% of the animal's weight to avoid encumbering them.
5of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams gently lowers an American robin into a plastic cup on a scale as she gathers recordsdata and fits the chook with an Argos satellite mark, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Tracking units ought to be no longer as a lot as 5% of the animal’s weight to preserve far from encumbering them.Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams measures the beak of an American robin as she gathers data to possibly fit the bird with an Argos satellite tag, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. The American robin is an iconic songbird in North America, its bright chirp a harbinger of spring. Yet its migratory habits remain a bit mysterious to scientists.
7of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams measures the beak of an American robin as she gathers recordsdata to presumably fit the chook with an Argos satellite mark, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. The American robin is an iconic songbird in North The United States, its gleaming chirp a harbinger of spring. But its migratory habits live moderately mysterious to scientists.Carolyn Kaster/AP
Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams fits an Argos satellite tag to an American robin, like a backpack, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Scientists have previously put GPS-tracking devices on larger raptors, but the technology has only recently become small and light enough for some songbirds.
8of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams fits an Argos satellite mark to an American robin, treasure a backpack, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. Scientists hang previously attach GPS-monitoring units on higher raptors, however the know-how has simplest honest at the moment became small and lightweight ample for some songbirds.Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams fits an Argos satellite tag to an American robin, like a backpack, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. The device can give precise locations, within about 30 feet (about 10 meters), instead of around 125 miles (200 kilometers) for previous generations of tags.
10of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams fits an Argos satellite mark to an American robin, treasure a backpack, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Silver Spring, Md. The gadget can present actual areas, within about 30 toes (about 10 meters), relatively than spherical 125 miles (200 kilometers) for old generations of tags.Carolyn Kaster/AP
Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams prepares bird netting in the hope of catching American robins, Thursday, May 6, 2021, in a backyard in Silver Springs, Md. Using satellite tracking tags, the goal is to unravel why some American robins migrate long distances, but others do not.
11of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams prepares chook netting in the hope of catching American robins, Thursday, May 6, 2021, in a backyard in Silver Springs, Md. Utilizing satellite monitoring tags, the blueprint is to unravel why some American robins migrate lengthy distances, but others originate no longer.Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams, right, and a volunteer watch bird netting with binoculars from distance for American robins, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Cheverly, Md.
13of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams, factual, and a volunteer look chook netting with binoculars from distance for American robins, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Cheverly, Md.Carolyn Kaster/AP
Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams sets up a sidewalk work station Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Cheverly, Md., as she prepares to net and place Argos satellite tags on America robins. Williams hopes more detailed data from the tags, combined with records of nesting success, will provide insights, and she's working with partners who are tagging robins in Alaska, Indiana and Florida for a three-year study.
14of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams sets up a sidewalk work keep Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Cheverly, Md., as she prepares to discover and sing Argos satellite tags on The United States robins. Williams hopes more detailed recordsdata from the tags, blended with records of nesting success, will present insights, and she’s working with partners who are tagging robins in Alaska, Indiana and Florida for a three-twelve months watch.Carolyn Kaster/AP
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An Argos satellite tag is seen on the back of an American robin, Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Silver Springs, Md. With more precise information about nesting success and conditions in breeding and wintering grounds,
16of21An Argos satellite mark is considered on the back of an American robin, Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Silver Springs, Md. With more actual details about nesting success and prerequisites in breeding and wintering grounds, “we desires as a technique to picture the relative roles of genetics versus the ambiance in shaping why birds migrate,” says avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams.Carolyn Kaster/AP
The antenna of an Argos satellite tag extends past the tail feathers of an American robin as it bobs its head down to feed on worms and insects on a lawn in Cheverly, Md., Sunday, May 9, 2021. Putting beacons on birds is not novel. But a new antenna on the International Space Station and receptors on the Argos satellite, plus the shrinking size of tracking chips and batteries, are allowing scientists to remotely monitor songbird movements in much greater detail than ever before.
17of21The antenna of an Argos satellite mark extends previous the tail feathers of an American robin as it bobs its head down to feed on worms and insects on a garden in Cheverly, Md., Sunday, May 9, 2021. Placing beacons on birds is no longer original. But a gentle antenna on the International Dwelling Set apart and receptors on the Argos satellite, plus the disquieted size of monitoring chips and batteries, are allowing scientists to remotely visual show unit songbird movements in important elevated detail than ever sooner than.Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Avian ecologist and Georgetown University Ph.D. student Emily Williams releases an American robin, too light to be fitted with an Argos satellite tag, after gathering samples and data and applying bands, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Cheverly, Md. The American robin is an iconic songbird in North America, its bright chirp a harbinger of spring. Yet its migratory habits remain a bit mysterious to scientists.
19of21Avian ecologist and Georgetown College Ph.D. pupil Emily Williams releases an American robin, too gentle to be fitted with an Argos satellite mark, after gathering samples and records and applying bands, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Cheverly, Md. The American robin is an iconic songbird in North The United States, its gleaming chirp a harbinger of spring. But its migratory habits live moderately mysterious to scientists.Carolyn Kaster/AP
An antenna from an Argos satellite tag extends past the tail feathers of an American robin as it darts around a front lawn in Cheverly, Md., Sunday, May 9, 2021.
20of21An antenna from an Argos satellite mark extends previous the tail feathers of an American robin as it darts spherical a entrance garden in Cheverly, Md., Sunday, May 9, 2021.Carolyn Kaster/AP
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TAKOMA PARK, Md. (AP) — A corpulent robin sporting a minute steel backpack with an antenna hops spherical a suburban yard in Takoma Park, then plucks a cicada from the bottom for a snack.

Ecologist Emily Williams watches thru binoculars from in the back of a bush. On this obvious spring day, she’s snooping on his dating life. “Now I’m staring at to leer whether or no longer he’s chanced on a mate,” she talked about, scrutinizing his interactions with but any other robin in a shut-by tree.

Once the chook moves on at season’s quit, she’ll depend on the backpack to beam frequent receive 22 situation recordsdata to the Argos satellite, then back to Williams’ pc, to note it.

The blueprint is to unravel why some American robins migrate lengthy distances, but others originate no longer. With more actual details about nesting success and prerequisites in breeding and wintering grounds, “we desires as a technique to picture the relative roles of genetics versus the ambiance in shaping why birds migrate,” talked about Williams, who is essentially essentially essentially based at Georgetown College.

Placing beacons on birds is no longer original. But a gentle antenna on the International Dwelling Set apart and receptors on the Argos satellite, plus the disquieted size of monitoring chips and batteries, are allowing scientists to remotely visual show unit songbird movements in important elevated detail than ever sooner than.

“We’re in a make of golden age for chook evaluation,” talked about Adriaan Dokter, an ecologist at Cornell College who is circuitously engrossing with Williams’ watch. “It’s relatively wonderful that we can satellite-note a robin with smaller and smaller chips. Ten years in the past, that modified into unthinkable.”

The gadget this robin is sporting can present actual areas, within about 30 toes (about 10 meters), relatively than spherical 125 miles (200 kilometers) for old generations of tags.

That methodology Williams can picture no longer simplest whether or no longer the chook is soundless in the city, but on which avenue or backyard. Or whether or no longer it’s flown from the Washington, D.C., suburbs to land on the White Dwelling garden.

A 2nd gentle mark, for simplest the heaviest robins, entails an accelerometer to gather details about the chook’s movements; future variations would possibly per chance presumably well simply furthermore measure humidity and barometric stress. These Icarus tags work with a gentle antenna on the International Dwelling Set apart.

That antenna modified into first turned on about two years in the past, “but there had been some system defects with the energy-present and the computer, so we needed to bring it down again with a Russian rocket, then transport it from Moscow to Germany to repair it,” talked about Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, whose scientific team is honing the know-how. After “the linked old troubleshooting for dwelling science,” the antenna modified into turned back on this spring.

As researchers deploy precision tags, Wikelski envisions the scheme of “an ‘Web of animals’ — a group of sensors at some stage in the realm giving us a bigger image of the motion of life on the earth.”

The American robin is an iconic songbird in North The United States, its gleaming chirp a harbinger of spring. But its migratory habits live moderately mysterious to scientists.

“It’s fabulous how microscopic we learn about a couple of of the most frequent songbirds,” talked about Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell College. “We hang now got a frequent conception of migration, a selection scheme, but that’s in actuality perfect a mountainous affect.”

An earlier watch Williams labored on showed some robins are lengthy-distance migrants — flying bigger than 2,780 miles (4,480 km) between their breeding dwelling in Alaska and frigid climate grounds in Texas — whereas others hop spherical a single backyard most of the twelve months.

What factors drive some robins emigrate, whereas others don’t? Does it must originate with on hand food, temperature fluctuations or success in mating and rearing chicks?

Williams hopes more detailed recordsdata from satellite tags, blended with records of nesting success, will present insights, and she’s working with partners who are tagging robins in Alaska, Indiana and Florida for a three-twelve months watch.

Scientists hang previously attach GPS-monitoring units on higher raptors, however the know-how has simplest honest at the moment became small and lightweight ample for some songbirds. Tracking units ought to be no longer as a lot as 5% of the animal’s weight to preserve far from encumbering them.

In a Silver Spring, Maryland, yard, Williams has unfurled nylon nets between tall aluminum poles. When a robin flies into the discover, she delicately untangles the chook. Then she holds it in a “bander’s grip” — along with her forefinger and center finger loosely on either aspect of the chook’s neck, and but any other two fingers spherical its body.

On a tarp, she measures the robin’s beak size, takes a toenail clipping and plucks a tail feather to gauge total successfully being.

Then she weighs the chook in a small cup on a scale. This one is ready 80 grams, perfect over the threshold for sporting the penny-sized Argos satellite mark.

Williams fashions a makeshift saddle with obvious jewelry wire looped spherical every of the chook’s legs. She then tightens the wire so the mark sits firmly on the chook’s back.

When she opens her hand, the robin hops to the bottom, then takes about a steps below a red azalea shrub sooner than flying off.

As successfully as to offering very actual areas, the satellite tags transmit recordsdata that will even be downloaded from afar onto Williams’ pc. The records on older tags couldn’t be retrieved except the identical chook modified into recaptured the next twelve months — a stressful and no longer stoop job.

Wikelski hopes the gentle know-how will abet scientists higher mark threats birds and diversified creatures face from habitat loss, air pollution and climate swap.

“It’s detective work to try and resolve out why a inhabitants is declining,” talked about Ben Freeman, a biologist on the Biodiversity Overview Centre on the College of British Columbia. Greater details about migration corridors “will abet us explore in the factual locations.”

A 2019 watch co-written by Cornell’s Rosenberg showed that North The United States’s inhabitants of untamed birds declined by nearly 30%, or 3 billion, since 1970.

He talked about monitoring birds will abet indicate why: “Where in their annual cycles originate migratory birds face the final word threats? Is it exposure to pesticides in Mexico, the clearing of rainforests in Brazil, or is it what folks are doing in their backyards here in the U.S.?”

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Observe Christina Larson on Twitter:@larsonchristina

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives give a boost to from the Howard Hughes Clinical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is fully accountable for all yelp material.

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