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Researchers use weather radar to track bird movement, investigate decline

 Birds roosting on a power line.
Kyle Horton
Colorado State University
Birds roosting on a power line.

With many bird populations in decline, two recent studies out of Colorado State University used weather radar to track the movements of swallows and martins to gain clues into how climate change and roost size affect their roosting habits.

Maria Belotti is a PhD student who contributed to both studies, which relied on 21 years of data collected by weather surveillance radar stations in the Great Lakes region.

“If the climate is changing, they need to change their seasonality and if they’re not doing that, then we have a problem,” she said.

In a paper published in the journal Global Change Biology in November, Belotti and her colleagues showed that peak roosting activity had changed by a little over 2 days per decade in the region, likely caused by insects emerging earlier in the season due to climate change.

Belotti says a shortened roosting season could have health implications for birds as they prepare for migrations – and create a domino effect that also harms the predators dependent on them.

“Understanding what is driving changes of this behavior throughout the years is likely to help us figure out why these species have been facing declines and what we can do to stabilize their populations,” Belotti was quoted as saying in a CSU news release.

The second study, published last month in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, looked at whether the size of a roost has anything to do with the location’s popularity within a season or year after year. Turns out, larger roosts gather more regularly in the same place, but more birds join smaller groups. Belotti wonders if the size of the roost could impact birds’ survival.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2023 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson