Advances In Animal Migration Studies

Illustration by Shyama Golden

Sonia Shah, a science journalist and author of “The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move,” has provided a great summary of recent developments on the study of animal migration:

Animal Planet

An ambitious new system will track scores of species from space — shedding light, scientists hope, on the lingering mysteries of animal movement.

‘‘I’m going to do a set of coos,” Calandra Stanley whispered into the radio. The Georgetown ornithologist and her team had been hunting cuckoos, in an oak-and-hickory forest on the edge of a Southern Illinois cornfield, for weeks. Droplets of yesterday’s rain slid off the leaves above to those below in a steady drip. In the distance, bullfrogs croaked from a shallow lake, where locals go ice fishing in winter.

As dawn broke and the rising sun lit the top of the canopy, the cuckoo finally arrived to investigate. Within moments the bird was ensnared, squawking and thrashing and flapping his wings in a knot of black netting. Stanley slowly unfurled the net, cupping him in her hands. He had a slim handsome head, bright eyes and long brown-and-white tail feathers soiled with a smear of feces. Stanley unceremoniously dumped him into a drawstring cloth bag and hooked it to a nearby tree. Inside the bag, he went silent, while the crew set up a tarp on a grassy opening nearby and spread out their gear.

With her instruments arrayed around her, Stanley gingerly drew the bird out of the bag, gripping him by his fuzzy white neck and scrawny legs. She blew all over his body, ruffling his down to look for the fat stores he might have built up for his coming journey. She clipped the claws at the end of his zygodactyl feet, two toes facing forward and two facing backward, and plucked one of his feathers, dropping it into a small manila envelope. She spread one of his wings so that she could get a blood sample. She measured him with calipers from various angles. He submitted, his eyes wide and glassy, except for when she took the width of his beak, which provoked a single, outraged yelp.

Then Stanley deposited a few drops of superglue to attach the object at the heart of her ministrations: a tiny solar-powered tracking device. She carried the cuckoo into a clearing a few feet away and asked me to open my palms, placing him inside them. Freed, he didn’t hesitate for even a split second. As soon as she released her grip, he flew off into the trees, his feet ever so lightly grazing my open palm…

Read the whole article here.

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