‘Golden age for bird research’ thanks to satellite, International Space Station antenna

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, Maryland.

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, Maryland. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

The new antenna and receptors on the satellite, along with smaller tracking chips and batteries, let scientists remotely monitor songbird movements in greater detail than ever.

TAKOMA PARK, Md. — A plump robin wearing a tiny metal backpack with an antenna hops around a suburban yard in Takoma Park, then plucks a cicada for a snack.

From behind a bush, ecologist Emily Williams watches through binoculars.

“I’m watching to see whether he’s found a mate,” Williams says, scrutinizing his interactions with a robin in a nearby tree.

Once the bird moves on at season’s end, she’ll rely on the backpack to beam frequent location data to the Argos satellite, then back to Williams’ laptop, to track it.

The goal is to unravel why some American robins migrate long distances, but others do not.

With more precise information about nesting success and conditions in breeding and wintering grounds, “We should be able to tell the relative roles of genetics versus the environment in shaping why birds migrate,” says Williams, a Georgetown University researcher.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Carolyn Kaster, AP Photos

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The Argos satellite …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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