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College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture–Research & Development

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Videos - Fueling frequent fliers

Video transcript

Lindsay Tudor:
The sandpipers are Arctic breeders, they nest across the Canadian Arctic and they come down to our coastal areas to rest and refuel during migration.

Rebecca Holberton:
They only weigh about 20 grams, which is, oh, it’s pretty darn small and they need about, almost 20 more grams to complete their journeys to the wintering grounds.

Lindsay Tudor:
They’re going to stay on our mudflats, sand flats, salt marsh habitats. Individuals will stay about two to three weeks, and in that time they’re going to double their body weight so they can fuel the next leg of their migration, which is over the Atlantic Ocean down straight to South America.

Rebecca Holberton:
We were very interested in understanding their local movements once they come into our area for stopover on migration. We want to see exactly where they’re going to feed, and where they’re going to roost.

Lindsay Tudor:
This new technology, nano tags, is a telemetry unit that we can put attached to a bird and we can track the birds throughout its entire time in Maine. Along with the tags we have these receiver towers, so these receiver towers can track the birds 24/7 — they are automated.

Sean Rune:
What we have here is our tower with a mast and we have three antennas. Each of them is connected to a coaxial cable, which goes into this unit here, and then there are three separate receivers, one for each antenna, and they are connected to this small computer, which has a special software.

Rebecca Holberton:
It’s the first time we’ve applied this type of tracking technology to shorebirds. A new discovery with this tracking study is we have found out that the birds that are arriving and feeding in Downeast, Maine are leaving directly from that area to fly three to five days nonstop to Surinam and Brazil.

Lindsay Tudor:
Not only can they fly that distance, but the fact that they’re not stopping and resting and refueling, and that they are able to break down proteins to hydrate themselves to catalyze the lipids to fuel it, and they can do it in a matter days. Well, we know most shorebird species are in a decline throughout North America. So one thing in Maine — what we want to do when the birds are in our state, they’re our responsibility so we want to make sure that our habitats are meeting the needs of these shorebirds. There are birds declining at a faster rate than they are in other areas or are Maine birds not declining and remaining fairly stable. That would be good information for us to know if, you know, our protection initiatives are working.

Sean Rune:
This is a really prime location right here because when you look out over to the estuary, we have some small islands with associated rocky ledges, are really important for roosting habitat.

Rebecca Holberton:
We don’t know what’s going to happen then, if those areas no longer supply the food and the rest that they need. The work really has been a watershed opportunity to take a lot of our original questions that we had going on, looking at how animals regulate their energy demands during migration, we’re now able to couple that with movement and behavioral options. It really helps policymakers develop better more effective programs to direct their resources, in other words if they realize that the key bottleneck in an animal’s annual cycle is not under their direct purview, they have to start collaborating with other countries or other agencies to ensure that something’s being done in those, at that other time of the year in that other location. So, it’s really critical to build those bridges and span those barriers that our birds don’t see in the first place. And so I think that understanding these connections is really pivotal to understanding the mechanisms.

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Contact Information

College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture--Research & Development
5782 Winslow Hall, Room 101
Orono, Maine 04469-5782
Phone: 207-581-3228 | Fax: 207-581-3207E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System