May 6, 2009

Satellite used to study rare birds

The first U.S. satellite study of the Spectacled Petrel has revealed new information about the rare bird's ecology, with major conservation implications.

Researchers said the Spectacled Petrel was only recognized as a unique species, separate from the White-chinned Petrel, a decade ago, and until now, little was known about its non-breeding distribution.

But American Bird Conservancy scientists said a donation of satellite transmitters by North Star Science and Technology LLC allowed ABC researchers to obtain groundbreaking data on the petrel's non-breeding activities in Brazil.

Leandro Bugoni and colleagues from the University of Glasgow in Scotland captured five birds off the coast of Brazil and attached transmitters to them that provided exact locations every 30 minutes, enabling the researchers to track the birds' movements, day and night, for about a month.

The petrels traveled vast distances, each covering up to 45,000 square miles of open ocean, Bugoni said. One bird traveled an astounding 8,800 miles in just 49 days.

Through the satellite tracking project the scientists determined the birds can forage around the clock. The researchers said that's significant for the conservation of the species, because, if verified, it means mitigation measures must be used at all times of day.