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Using New Technology To Track a Rare Songbird During Migration

Photo of A male cerulean warbler gets fitted with a light-detecting geolocator, which will record its location as the bird migrates to its wintering grounds. Nathan Weyandt, USDA Forest Service.A male cerulean warbler gets fitted with a light-detecting geolocator, which will record its location as the bird migrates to its wintering grounds. Nathan Weyandt, USDA Forest Service.Snapshot : The cerulean warbler is a tiny forest bird in big trouble. To better understand where these birds go when they migrate out of their Appalachian breeding grounds, Forest Service scientists and university partners have begun using light-detecting geolocators: tiny backpacks that record the birds' locations. When recovered next spring, these geolocators will reveal where the birds traveled, which will help inform where conservation efforts should be focused.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Stoleson, Scott H.  
Research Location : Pennsylvania
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 636

Summary

Populations of the cerulean warbler, a small, beautiful blue migratory bird that inhabits the treetops of Appalachian forests, has been declining by over 3 percent per year since 1966. Scientists across the warbler's range have studied its habitat needs and breeding habits. They know that these warblers spend only a few months a year on their breeding grounds in North America and over winter in forests and plantations in the northern Andes of South America. It seems likely that most of the problems for this species occur during migration, yet almost nothing is known about where they go or what habitats they use while traveling. To understand their migration, Forest Service scientists and their university partners have begun a study using geolocators: tiny data loggers that record the timing of daylight and dark. In 2014, a trial group of 10 cerulean warblers was captured in the United States, fitted with geolocators using a backpack-type harness, and released. Next year they will be recaptured and the geolocators removed. The downloaded data will reveal where the birds have been since their release. That information will indicate where they go and what problems they face on migration and help land managers and ornithologists develop strategies to alleviate those problems.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Allegheny National Forest
  • Arkansas State University
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania Department of Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Pennsylvania Game Commission

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