Technology is for the birds

By Staff

By Staff | October 4, 2016

Technology is a part of our everyday lives. Most of us carry a smartphone that tracks our location. It tells friends and family where we are. It helps us share our story and map our journeys.

Now imagine if lesser scaups could carry smartphones. What would we learn about them?

A new report* called Charting a Healthy Future for North America’s Birds takes a closer look at technological advances used to track bird migration. These devices can’t dial out or tweet, but they do help uncover the mysteries of a bird’s international connections.

Connecticut warbler with geolocator.
©Emily McKinnon

Migratory bird movements are tracked through:

  • Satellite tracking and geolocators that provide detailed accounts of when and where birds move and where they stop in between;
  • Radar and audio sorting technologies that show nocturnal migration and uncover previously unknown rest stops;
  • Unique elements ingested in food, referred to as isotopes, that when analyzed helps narrow down where a bird was born or where they spent their winters.
  • A piece of a bird’s DNA, called a genetic marker, that provides information about where it was born; and
  • Everyday citizens who log their observations through internet-based platforms, helping to identify larger patterns and distribution shifts.
Mapping and technology
Overview Map on the Seven Innovations Used in Bird Migration Research.
©Boreal Songbird Initiative

The data collected through these technologies is used to generate maps that illustrate the shared wildlife stewardship responsibilities across local, provincial and national communities and decision-makers. It also highlights the importance of conservation in Canada’s boreal forest.


“It quickly becomes clear that the boreal forest is the starting point. It is a vital breeding ground for North American birds,” says Kevin Smith, national manager of boreal programs with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).

Between 1-3 billion birds, representing more than 325 species, flock to the boreal each spring to find summer nesting habitat. In the fall, 3-5 billion birds migrate south from the boreal to warmer climates.

Taken from a story originally published by DUC. Read the full story on

* Prepared in partnership by DUC, Ducks Unlimited Inc., Boreal Songbird Initiative, Environment for the Americas and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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