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The High Speed Chase to Find Why Birds Change Altitudes

Cara J

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It was generally around 4 a.m. when the car chase would start to get old. Melissa Bowlin would be thinking, “Please just land, bird — that spot looks great over there” as she operated the equipment in the backseat. Bowlin, an assistant professor at University of Michigan-Dearborn, was chasing down birds at unearthly hours as part of a study to determine why migratory songbirds such as the Swainson’s thrush (Catharus ustulatus) made sudden changes in altitude, dropping or climbing hundreds of meters during flight. The study was recently published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances. “We expected the birds to fly like aircraft, going up to a certain height then staying there,” Bowlin said. To conduct the study, she and the coauthors, many of them her students, captured Swainson’s thrushes, which generally migrate at night, attached analog radio transmitters and released them again where they caught them in Illinois. The devices sent out binary codes that told researchers the temperature and air pressure, which they could then use to calculate altitude. The researchers would then stake out nearby in their vehicle— often in a Dairy Queen parking lot — and wait for the night flight. Researchers used vehicles outfitted with antenna [...]


Read more: http://wildlife.org/the-high-speed-chase-to-find-why-birds-change-altitudes/

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