The Birds That Are Helping Save Their Own Species

Blackpoll warblers wearing geolocator backpacks are revealing where they rest during migration

Today, 37 percent of all North American bird species are considered at risk of extinction if urgent conservation action isn’t taken.

Migratory birds face threats at all stages of their annual life cycle, including everything from habitat loss and extreme weather events to collisions with buildings and death by cat. To help the birds, we need to know where they face threats throughout their life cycle, and that means better understanding their migration routes.

In June 2016, our team captured and fitted 120 birds with geolocator backpacks. A year later, we located 20 of them and the data we recovered revealed an astonishing journey.

But suspected transoceanic flights from New England and Atlantic Canada to South America could not be confirmed until 2015, when our colleagues used geolocators on blackpolls in Canada’s Maritime Provinces and in New England to document a nonstop, three-day, 3,000-kilometer transoceanic flight to South America during fall migration.

Migratory birds face threats at all stages of their annual life cycle, including from habitat loss, collisions with buildings, and cat predation. To help them we need to better understanding their migration routes.

For blackpolls breeding in Alaska and Yukon, a full three months of the year is taken up by migration, with long distances traveled across the continental U.S., exposing individuals to a multitude of threats along the way, which in addition to cats, collisions and extreme weather can be added poor-quality habitat, such as where pesticide use has decimated insect populations.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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