Share this page:

Tracking and Migratory Connectivity

  • A female scientist releasing a bird on the beach

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists use novel technologies to track various bird species throughout their annual cycle for the first time.

Understanding and tracking animal movements are crucial components of conserving the habitats that are essential to species survival. Yet knowledge about why, how, when and where most of Earth’s bird species migrate during their lifecycle is rudimentary, at best. Until recently, technology was not the appropriate size to fit birds. Much of what is known about migration has resulted from bird banding and re-sighting, people reporting the birds they saw. Knowing the exact movements and locations of birds improves the ability of conservation biologists and wildlife managers to protect these bird species as well as the places they rely on.

SMBC scientist Autumn-Lynn Harrison and the SMBC team work to develop methods to remotely track birds year-round through the use of technology. Tags, such as geolocators or satellite tags, are placed directly on a bird and carried by that bird year-round. Depending on the type of tag, data are regularly transmitted to a computer where researchers can monitor the bird's movement at any time. By using these new tools and methods, the team is able to establish a baseline knowledge of the migration routes and behaviors of certain species.

This information is providing insight about where birds move and are located throughout the year. This data not only sheds light on the actual journey and routes birds take, but will also help future work reveal more about the mysteries of bird migration. Further studies will help guide conservation practices to preserve these species and the places they rely on throughout the year.

To see live maps of individual birds scientists are tracking with cutting-edge technology, read updates on individual projects, learn about migration work as well as methods being used for a variety animal taxa, and more, visit the Migratory Connectivity Project website.

This research is conducted in partnership with various groups, including the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Coastal Bird Program, Erin Bayne’s lab at the University of Alberta Edmonton, Hedwig Lankau and Orla Osborne of the University of Alberta, Owl Moon Consulting, Phil Bruner of Brigham Young University—Hawaii, and Mike Wunder’s lab at the University of Colorado.

This work is made possible thanks to funding and support from ConocoPhillips.