The long way home..

As our satellite tracking page was updated today, showing the migration paths of 3 of our beautiful Ospreys, I thought it would be fitting to talk a little about migratory behaviour studies, and how it is helping us understand our impacts on native and migrant species. 

For many songbirds which migrate at night, such as thrushes, warblers and cuckoos, the most important tool they have for navigation is their geomagnetic and stellar (star-orientated) compass. These compasses have been studied for many years in order to understand the underlying mechanisms for orientation and migratory behaviour. We know that birds pick up on minuscule magnetic signals from the earth’s ‘lay-lines’ to know where they are on the globe, and read the stars as a map to help orientate them further, and more importantly to stay on course during their migration.

Recent studies have investigated how birds respond to disruptions in magnetic fields and can adjust their migratory path accordingly, which would be beneficial in the wild in the event of being displaced by weather events, and simply staying on course. With changing climate happening all around us now, it is predicted that environmental cues such as average temperature is prompting birds to migrate either too early or too late, meaning they may arrive out of sync with their prey and may not breed well or even survive in good condition. In addition to these climatic changes, birds are also experiencing a greater amount of interference from urban areas, known as electromagnetic noise (radio towers and background electrical activity inside large buildings). Studies in the Eurasian warbler show that these signals are strongest around urban areas, and although we cannot detect them, for more sensitive species which rely on tiny magnetic signals, one small disruption can spell disaster. it has been found to completely disorientate birds, and this means they do not stay accurately on course for their migration, and may end up spending more energy flying around trying to find their breeding grounds, at a time in the year they need to be conserving it. 

Our Osprey monitoring programme has allowed us, over some years, to identify the migratory routes of a small sample of birds, but we have found them to roughly follow similar routes: through France, Spain, across Morocco, over the Sahara, the Gambia, Senegal… and through these findings we have been able to establish areas of complementary conservation. The Osprey Leadership foundation collaborates with locals across all of these countries to promote conservation and encourage leaders in the communities to educate, inspire and protect the Ospreys which pass through, overwinter and stop-off in their countries. Such projects have inspired local schools and helped improve education in these areas, as well as encouraging conservation practice and awareness to become established, and for communities to work together for a cause. The migration paths of individual ospreys can obviously differ quite a lot, and we have been thrilled to watch the progression of our three tracked birds as they migrate back to Rutland water this Spring. 

Such experiments are showing us a great deal of hard truths: we are having a much greater impact on native and migrant wildlife than we realise, and so it is increasingly important to collaborate with scientific research to identify solutions, management strategies and eventually sustainable methods for conservation well into the future. We have seen in our own Ospreys how their arrival dates have fluctuated, and vary a great deal between years, but patterns may be emerging if we keep a close eye on our tagged birds, perhaps we will see a shift in arrival dates earlier in the year as temperatures rise, or even a delayed arrival with more extreme weather events, such as the beast from the east last year. All we can do is work together to limit our own personal impacts on the planet (reducing emissions, reducing energy expenditure and fuel use) and supporting research into this exciting and ever developing knowledge base surrounding migratory behaviour. 

And back to our Ospreys: could S1 be due back in the next week or so? Will 4K finally roll out of bed and make it to our shores? Stay tuned!

3 responses to “The long way home..”

  1. suzie

    Thank you … your posts are great to read! And it’s good to see that 30 is nearly home … the satellite info looked bleak for a while!

  2. Sal

    What a great blog article. So very informative of the issues surrounding migration and the difficulties our precious migratory birds face. It’s all too easy to imagine that just because great birds like 30 make it all look so easy, that all others will have the same experience. Clearly not so, and certainly a sobering truth.

  3. PaulW

    Thank for your most informative post, a good read