Tracking Wildlife

One major question we face after oiled wildlife are treated and released is what is the immediate fate of the released animal?  Given that some animals may travel 1000s of kilometers after they are released, it is a difficult task to follow them.  As a result, OWCN has been involved in various post-release tracking studies using radio and satellite tracking technology.

These past few weeks, I was in north-eastern Montana with partners from PRBO Conservation Science, The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund putting satellite tags (called PTTs – Platform Transmitting Terminals) on a common California wintering shorebird, the Long-billed Curlew.

Nils with recently trapped Long-billed Curlew by its nest on the Matador Ranch in Montana

Photo: Nils with recently trapped Long-billed Curlew by its nest on the Matador Ranch in Montana

The Long-billed Curlew is found using agricultural fields (especially in the Central and Imperial valleys) and at estuaries along the coast in California from about July through April.

During the Montana trip, we put PTTs on breeding curlews.  Once activated, the PTTs beam a signal to a series of satellites in space; the orbiting devices plot the bird’s location and then beam the information back to Earth.  Via computers, we get the daily locations of birds that we will use to map out the migration routes of these birds.  We hope to follow the curlews from their breeding grounds in Montana to their wintering areas (probably in Mexico).

LBCU release NV2

Photo: Satellite tag (PTT) on a just released Long-billed Curlew

This satellite technology that we are now using to study how curlews move through their global landscape will be used in future oil spill research projects to help us answer the vexing question of what is the fate of post-spill, released birds.

– Nils

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