Tracking Songbirds with Geolocators
By Songbird SOS  
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In spring 2010, ornithologist and York University Professor, Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, placed a tiny geolocators tag weighing only .6 grams on the back of 5 male Hooded Warbler weighing less than 15 grams. These tiny computer chip backpacks record light levels and location information every two minutes. Since the devices can't transmit live data, the bird has to be strong enough to carry the chip for nine months and then return to the same spot it was tagged in last spring.

Although it was a relatively large piece of luggage for such a small bird, "You could not tell that a male Hooded Warbler was carrying a geolocator unless you happened to get a really good look at his back. They sang vigorously, chased other males, mated with their females, and all five males successfully raised a family," says Stutchbury.

One year later, two of the five warblers returned to their territory in northwestern Pennsylvania with the geolocators intact. The Songbird SOS crew was on hand as they caught the bird and analyzed the data. (see video above)

The now famous bird had flown south to the Florida panhandle, across the Gulf of Mexico, and spent the winter in central Nicaragua. In spring, he flew up to the Yucatan peninsula, across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River valley back to his exact same 100m x 100m territory in Pennsylvania with pinpoint accuracy - an incredible 7000 km round trip!

Stutchbury reminds us that Aristotle believed that migratory swallows buried themselves in the mud over the winter like frogs. In many ways that seems far more likely than the truth - that a little 12 gram bird is capable of flying over half-way across the globe.