Montane Bird Population Connectivity


Ever since the day in 1803, when John James Audubon tied thin silver cords to a brood of Eastern Phoebes near Philadelphia, and later confirmed that two returned to the neighbourhood the following year, ornithologists have been devising ways to track songbird migration.

Despite great strides, no one had tracked an individual songbird throughout its annual migration. These data are integral for any meaningful conservation action plan. We have learned about incredible movements of raptors, seabirds, and shorebirds, as these large-bodied migrants carry transmitters beaming their locations to passing satellites. The conundrum for songbirds has been their small size—they simply can't carry much extra weight.

Bicknell's Thrush outfitted with a geolocator. / K.P. McFarland

Bicknell’s Thrush outfitted with a geolocator. / K.P. McFarland


VCE biologists were among the many researchers eager for an inside look into the elusive lives of songbirds as they travel the globe. Many migrant songbirds cover impressive distances of over 5,000 km between breeding and wintering sites, yet the exact timing, pathways followed, migratory stopover areas, and degree of connectivity between all of these sites were only speculative.

From chemical signatures left in feathers to miniature geolocator backpacks, our scientists have been using the latest techniques and technology available to help solve the migratory mysteries of montane songbirds.