Orford Ness Gulls Monitored with GPS Reveal Surprising Migration Habits

GPS tracking birds
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Among the many important uses of GPS tracking technology, are wildlife research and conservation efforts. Scientist around the world can study the different habits of all kinds of creatures by attaching GPS tracking devices to the animals. Prior to this technology, our understanding of wildlife was much more limited, as researchers could only rely on visual observations. Many animals depend on their ability to remain undetected for survival, making visually tracking them very difficult. One of the latest groups to use GPS tracking to monitor wildlife, is the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

The BTO equipped 25 black-backed gulls from their Orford Ness gull reserve with GPS monitoring devices. Using GPS technology, the researchers monitored these gulls movements, and the results came as a surprise to the team. “We didn’t realize how varied these gulls’ journeys were. We’ve had some go down to Spain, Portugal, and Africa.” Dr. Viola Ross-Smith, a research ecologist with the BTO, explained. The reasons behind the varied migration habits remain a mystery to the researchers. “We can speculate, it’s been a lot warmer this year than last year,” Dr. Ross-Smith explained. “Last year they all went south, this year they didn’t. It could be something to do with difference in sex, but we don’t really know.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is funding the research team in order to determine how the gulls might be affected by offshore wind farms. However, Dr. Ross-Smith’s team will use the precise data provided by GPS tracking to further their own goals, including wildlife conservation. “We can see exactly what they’re doing at any one time,” she said. “We can see where their feeding sites are, where the roosting sites are, so it could be really useful for their conservation.”

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Marisa O'Connor

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