August 3, 2016 9:49 pm
Updated: August 6, 2016 9:29 am

Secrets of bird migration revealed thanks to GPS trackers

Using some very cool technology, a group of BC researchers are unraveling the secrets of the birds migrations south and how they return to the exact same tree. Ted Chernecki reports.

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The mysteries of bird migration are being unravelled by a group of B.C. researchers, using some very cool technology.

The data collected is revealing some secrets about where the Swainson’s Thrush song bird goes after the summer.

So UBC researchers wanted to find out more about where they go during winter and how they get there.

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“What we can do is find a singing male, set up a mist net, play its song to it, catch that bird and then we take one of these light little geolocators and fix that to the back of the bird,” UBC Professor of zoology Darren Irwin said.

A year later they’ve successfully recaptured more than 30 of these songbirds, removed the little back pack and downloaded the data.

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“They migrate thousands of kilometers, they do this alone, they do it at night, and they often make it back to the same tree year after year,” one of the lead researchers Kira Delmore said.

Researchers weren’t sure how these small birds could make it all the way to South America at night and by themselves.

So they looked into their DNA, specifically into one chromosome that seems to indicate which route the birds will take.

“Birds from Pacific Spirit park right here, take the West Coast down to Mexico,” Irwin said.

“Birds from Kamloops, the eastern birds, go way down to the southeast of the United States and across to Colombia.”

He said it’s like these birds are pre-wired from birth and it begs the question if salmon also share a similar biology.

“Still quite a mystery so we have a lot more work to do but what experiments, not just in our lab but others, have shown is that they somehow do know where to go and somehow its encoded in the DNA.”

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