Scientists recently developed a bird tracker, an electronic device known as a "tag on his back" that can track the movement of birds.

A well-fed songbird was described in a FIOR Reports article as it leaped around in the grass close to Washington DC.

The bird, a robin carrying an extremely small, lightweight electronic device, is observed spotting an insect nearby and attacking it quickly; clearly, it just won a meal.

Emily Williams, an ecologist who was watching the robin behind a bush, found that the bird had a partner when it moved to a nearby tree where the mate was.

Each time the bird walked, the electronic device it was carrying was sending data about its location to an Argos satellite and then to a computer of Williams.

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Science Times - Bird Tracker: Scientists Develop Electronic Device That Can Track Songbirds’ Movement
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
American robin in Humber Bay Park Toronto, Canada

Argos Satellite Tag

An antenna of the Argos satellite tag extends beyond a female American robin's tail feather as she feeds a worm to her starved nestlings on a Cheverly, Maryland, port in early May this year.

The Argos satellite system was created in 1978 by the French Space Agency, NOAA, and NASA to collect, process, and disseminate data for animal tracking, oceanography, meteorology, climatology, and other environmental applications. 

The objective of this project, according to a similar Chicago Sun Times report, is to discover the reason why American robins are typically traveling or migrating while others are not.

This new tracking system promises more precise information on the places where robins are mating, raising their young and the sites where they are hibernating.

Furthermore, such a tracking device will help researchers understand the meaning of "genetics" against the impacts of the environments, the reason birds are migrating, explained Williams.


Scientists have been applying tracking tags to birds and animals for several years already. However, the International Space Station and the Argos satellite are now offering new approaches to receiving information that the tags send.

In addition, the new system allows researchers to observe from a distance the songbirds' movement in much greater detail than in the past.

According to Cornell University ecologist Adriaan Dokter, adding the technology improves with ever-smaller tags.

The scientist, who is not part of Williams' study, also said scientists can  "satellite track" a robin with ever tinier chips. That, added the expert, was unthinkable a decade ago.

The device the robin is carrying can report its immediate location anywhere on the planet -- within approximately 10 meters. A second new electronic device, designed only for the weightiest robins, provides more details about the movements of birds.

Future versions can be used as well as the humidity and barometric pressure of the space that the bird is occupying.

Catching a Robin

Williams has set up nets in-between tall poles in her garden. When a robin is flying into the net, she cautiously removes the bird.

She then measures the bird's body weight and pulls out a single feather to check its overall health condition. If the robin weighs about 80 grams, it means it is just large enough to carry the satellite tag. Such technology has recently turned out to be tiny and light enough to be used on small songbirds too. Tracking devices need to weigh below 5 percent of the weight of the bird so it could normally fly.

Related information is shown on Hakai Institute's YouTube video below:

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