For half a century, banding was the best tool scientists had for studying the movement, survival, and behavior of birds. Approximately 60 million birds, including hundreds of species, have been banded in North America since 1904. About 4 million of those bands have been recovered and reported.
In the early 2000s, scientists perfected the use of implanted transmitters to track birds. Using satellites that track the signals produced by these transmitters opened new doors to understanding the birds' habits and movements.
In May 2014, on the east coast of Nova Scotia, 11 common eiders were captured and fitted with satellite transmitters as part of a research project examining the birds' breeding and wintering behavior. The study was conducted by Mark Mallory, Canada research chair in coastal wetlands sciences for Acadia University.
A year and a half later, DU volunteer and Diamond Life Sponsor Jack Nagle, of Dallastown, Pennsylvania, harvested one of the eiders carrying a transmitter off the coast of Maine.
"At first we didn't notice the antenna—we were just so thrilled to see a band on the bird's leg," Jack says. "Then we saw a long, thin wire tucked under the wing. It was so small and blended so well with the feathers, we almost missed it. That started me on a quest to find out what the device was all about."
Jack got in touch with Mark to report the harvested bird. "Most of our birds end up somewhere around Cape Cod in the winter, but they stage at other sites along the way," Mark says. "The insight that this data provides helps us understand the areas that are important to these birds."