February 5, 2023

Migration is underway. Birds have started to trickle out of Maine. Over the next two weeks, the trickle will become a torrent. Where will they all go?

Good question. Birds are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. In North America alone, nearly three billion birds have vanished in the last 50 years.

Collisions with manmade structures and predation by outdoor cats account for much of the decline, but habitat loss is probably the leading cause. For migrating species, both their summer and winter habitats must be conserved, if we are to slow the trend.

That is how Emily Filiberti found herself interning at a nature preserve in Jamaica a few years ago. Filiberti is now a graduate student at the University of Maine. She spent this summer in Wisconsin tracking golden-winged warblers, a species that is disappearing even faster than most other birds. That’s where she made an astonishing discovery.

Last spring, Filiberti and her crew captured some of the golden-winged warblers in the research area and outfitted them with Nano Tags. These tiny transmitters are part of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, a technology less than a decade old that takes advantage of miniaturized electronics. The transmitters are so small, they can be attached to butterflies.

Suddenly, the receiving station picked up the signal of a different species, a female American redstart that had been tagged in Jamaica. In fact, it had been tagged two months earlier by her former supervisor, in the exact same spot where Filiberti had studied.

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