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The late bird gets later

Cara J

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A few years ago, University of Guelph researcher Elizabeth Gow’s work wouldn’t have been possible. But improvements in technology allowed biologists to fit tiny tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)with even tinier GPS “backpacks,” allowing them to paint a vivid picture of the birds’ 3,500-kilometer migration across North America. They found that a delay at one point in the migration can have ripple effects throughout the cycle, but at their wintering grounds, the birds have a chance to reset the clock. The findings shed light on how to conserve the birds, whose numbers are dwindling. “If we want to understand the decline of the birds, we need to understand how they behave and where they go at different scales,” said Gow, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Previous studies followed a single population of the bird, which breeds throughout Canada and the northern United States and migrates to southern states, Mexico and the Caribbean. Researchers say this study was the first to track the timing of 12 distinct populations across the continent. Outfitting over 130 birds with light-level geolocators weighing less than a gram, they were able to track how long the birds spent at [...]

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