Small bird tagging tech creates new ways to investigate animals

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Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology David Winkler found a needle in a haystack: 3 Ithaca tree swallows among 10 million or so overwintering in Florida this January. The manoeuvre was done probable by Winkler’s growth of a initial lifetime-solar-powered tab for tiny songbirds, an invention that could change a approach birds and other tiny animals are tracked and studied.

“This is something we’ve been available for 20 years: a ability to follow tiny birds via their migrations,” pronounced Winkler.

While vast birds like eagles and ospreys can hoop a additional load of a battery-powered tag, tree swallows themselves import customarily about half an ounce. To rise a lightweight alternative, Winkler collaborated with Cornell electrical engineers to emanate a tab powered by sunlight. Their antecedent consists of a solar dungeon and radio chip lonesome by a skinny film of Mylar, with a wispy handle receiver that transmits a bird’s singular ID series to any receiver listening within about a mile.

A tree swallow in Florida wearing a solar-powered tag. Photo credit: Teresa Pegan

A tree swallow in Florida wearing a solar-powered tag. Photo credit: Teresa Pegan

Last summer, Winkler and his students tagged 70 tree swallows in Ithaca. Tree swallows are famous to quit to Florida and a Caribbean in a winter, so Winkler and his former undergraduate students Teresa Pegan ’15 and Eric Gulson Castillo ’15 and their co-worker David Craig from Willamette University trafficked to Florida in January, where they used continue radar to locate vast flocks of tree swallows that competence bay tagged birds.

“The overwintering birds roost together during night in outrageous numbers – during times some-more than a million in one place,” Winkler said. “Leaving a roosts, they fly distant adult into a atmosphere in such vast numbers that they are manifest on continue radar.”

Winkler and his group used continue radar to locate a group foraging nearby Cape Canaveral. The birds were hardly manifest roughly a mile divided foraging low over a swamp, though a bottom hire receivers picked adult a pings from 3 opposite birds.

David Winkler's group places a solar-powered tab on a sedated tree swallow. Photo credit: Teresa Pegan

David Winkler’s group places a solar-powered tab on a sedated tree swallow. Photo credit: Teresa Pegan

This spring, Winkler and Pegan are once again on a hunt for a birds as a scientists investigate a round-trip emigration in Ithaca. Previous banding studies in a 1990s showed flourishing adults roughly always lapse in unbroken years to a same site, since many first-time breeders sunder divided from their home site, though customarily no some-more than about 7 miles.

The new record should assistance scientists settle a function of these immature birds on their initial lapse migration, Winkler said. “Now, with unconstrained bottom stations during all a nesting sites and a mobile section to be driven around all a roads in a vicinity, we should get a best demeanour during dispersion that we have ever had.”

Eric Gulson Castillo ’15, left, Teresa Pegan ’15, David Craig, of Willamette University, and David Winkler, highbrow of ecology and evolutionary biology in Florida. Photo credit: Cornell University

Eric Gulson Castillo ’15, left, Teresa Pegan ’15, David Craig, of Willamette University, and David Winkler, highbrow of ecology and evolutionary biology in Florida. Photo credit: Cornell University

The subsequent step is to urge their ability to detect a signals. Winkler hopes his group can integrate longer-range showing with a ability to pinpoint a plcae of a signal. He is penetrating to bond his tags with a network of stations adult and down a East Coast placed by other researchers to lane birds during their migrations.

Winkler expects a subsequent era of tags will be of seductiveness to other wildlife biologists, an bid bolstered by a $550,000 extend he perceived from a National Science Foundation. The tags – invented by Winkler and visiting scientist and operative Rich Gabrielson; Space Plasma Physics Group comparison operative Steve Powell ’83, M.S. ’83; and Rob MacCurdy ’99, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’15 – are being commercialized by a Cornell Center for Technology Licensing.

Source: Cornell University