Big Brother bird watching boosts ecology

Wildlife NewsNewScientist.com news service
Tom Simonite  
21 February 2008

A wireless surveillance network will be used to monitor the nesting and mating rituals of a remote North Atlantic seabird colony, providing scientists with unprecedented access to their behaviour and ecology.

Researchers from Oxford University and Microsoft Research in the UK, and from the Free University of Berlin, Germany, developed the network to monitor more than 100,000 Manx shearwater birds that breed during the summer on Skomer Island, off the west coast of Wales in the North Atlantic.

Pairs of shearwaters raise their chicks inside metre-long burrows, visiting them during the night, sometimes after fishing trips that can last several days.

Wireless tags will be attached to many of the bird's legs, and sensors embedded in their burrows will detect when the adults enter or leave their nest, measure temperature and humidity within the burrow and, eventually, even weigh the birds as they pass by. The data will then be fed live to researchers via a satellite link.

The researchers say the network will provide unparalleled access to details of the birds' lives, from the comfort of a remote desk. Similar wireless networks could improve ecological monitoring or help protect vulnerable environments, they add.

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NewScientist.com

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