Amazing technology defies incalculable odds to identify bird migrations

The migration is in progress. The birds have started flying out of Maine. Over the next two weeks, the net will become a torrent. Where will they all go?

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

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

This is how Emily Filiberti ended up on an internship in 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. It was there that she made an astonishing discovery.

Last spring, Filiberti and his crew captured some of the golden-winged warblers in the search area and fitted them with Nano Tags. These tiny transmitters are part of the Motus wildlife tracking system, a technology less than ten years old that takes advantage of miniaturized electronics. The transmitters are so small that they can be attached to butterflies.

Suddenly, the receiving station picked up a signal from a different species, a female American Redstart that had been tagged in Jamaica. In fact, he had been tagged two months earlier by his former supervisor, at the exact same place where Filiberti had studied.

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