Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Researchers Track 'Incredible' 20,000-Kilometre Songbird Migration

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Researchers Track 'Incredible' 20,000-Kilometre Songbird Migration

Article excerpt

Ontario researchers track 20,000 km bird migration


Ontario researchers have led an international team that tracked an "incredible" 20,000-kilometre voyage by a tiny songbird in an effort to understand why its population has collapsed and how it can be saved.

Ryan Norris, an ecology professor at the University of Guelph, and his team discovered that the blackpoll warbler, which weighs the same as two loonies, migrates from its breeding grounds in northwest North America to the eastern seaboard where it refuels.

Then it takes a straight, non-stop shot south over the Atlantic Ocean to its winter grounds in the Amazon basin. Then they go back again. The blackpolls repeat that journey every year.

"That whole round trip is incredible for a bird that size," Norris said, "just incredible."

Incredible is a word Norris uses often about the bird. In 2015, using "incredible little backpacks" strapped to the birds for tracking, Norris and his team showed for the first time that blackpolls fly from the Maritimes and Vermont south over the Atlantic Ocean to the greater Antilles where they stop for a time before pushing on to Venezuela and Colombia.

Until then, most people knew the birds, which have undergone a rapid population decline over the last several decades, vanished from the eastern seaboard and then reappeared in South America each year. No one really knew how they got there, he said.

That changed when tracking technology got down to a certain weight -- half a gram -- to be used on the small songbirds.

Now Norris and his colleagues are filling in the gaps on the blackpoll, especially from its western breeding grounds.

"We need to know where these birds are going if we're going to do anything effective for them," Norris said. "We can't just know where they breed -- they are only up there for two months of the year. If we don't know where they go for the rest of the year, we can't make any progress on conservation. …

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