York prof’s bird backpacks make news in Waynesville

It’s 11pm – do you know where your wood thrush is?, asked naturalist Don Hendershot in a column in Waynesville, North Carolina’s Smoky Mountain News Nov. 4.

Technology is beginning to fill in more blanks regarding avian migration. York University Professor Bridget Stutchbury and her researchers are outfitting wood thrushes and purple martins with tiny (1.5 gram) geolocator backpacks in order to track their entire migration cycle from Pennsylvania to South America and back.

Earlier migration studies estimated flight performance of migrants at around 95 miles per day. Stutchbury’s birds blew that assumption out of the water by winging more than 300 miles in a single day.

The study, funded in part by the National Geographic Society, indicates that fall migration is a more leisurely event than spring migration.

This groundbreaking research has a myriad of applications. Songbird populations have been declining for decades, according to Stutchbury in a recent Science Daily article “Tracking birds to their wintering areas is also essential for predicting the impact of tropical habitat loss and climate change. Until now, our hands have been tied in many ways, because we didn’t know where the birds were going. They would just disappear and then come back in the spring. It’s wonderful to now have a window into their journey.”

On air

  • York grad Sonia Goncalves (BA ’99) spoke about the Adopt-A-Student program, on CFMT-TV’s "Telejournal" Portuguese news Nov. 4.
  • Justin Podur, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about the effect of the Congo war on the environment, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” Nov. 4.
  • Priscila Uppal, English professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about this week’s Bodyworks symposium on art and sport, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Nov. 4.
  • Maggie Toplak, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about research into why intelligent people do irrational things, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Nov. 4.