‘Ospreys ideal bird for GPS tracking of migration’
Int’l experts convene to discuss migration technology collaborations, educational opportunities.
Black-headed gulls over the kinnere Photo: Sharon Udasin
With similar flight habits in their migratory paths all over the world, the
osprey is the ideal bird for GPS tracking on a collaborative level,
international experts agreed during a birding tour on Sunday.
educators and professionals spoke to The Jerusalem Post during a field day in
the Hula Valley and the Kinneret region that day, in preparation for a weeklong
conference about monitoring osprey migration and using that the GPS satellite
technology involved for streamlined, educational and conservation
On the Israeli side, the Kfar Blum conference was organized by
Dr. Yossi Leshem, a senior researcher in Tel Aviv University’s zoology
department, who has also worked for the Society for the Protection of Nature in
Israel (SPNI). He currently serves as the founder and director of SPNI’s
International Center for the Study of Bird Migration in Latrun. Also on the
organizing team was Tim Mackrill, senior reserve officer at Rutland Osprey
Project at the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, who is also working on
a PhD about ospreys.
“[Ospreys are] such an iconic species,” said Dr. Rob
Bierregaard, an osprey expert who has been geo-tagging the birds in the United
States since 2000.
“They’re the flagship bird of the coastal ecosystem,”
While Bierregaard has already tagged approximately 60 ospreys
thus far, his newest focus is on tagging the juvenile birds. This, he explained,
is a particularly difficult task due to the $4,000 cost of a single transmitter
coupled with the baby birds’ low migration survival rate. Thus far, Bierregaard
said he has decent – but far from perfect – success rates with the
For those who have survived, however, Bierregaard said he has
gotten very “interesting results,” as the juvenile osprey migrates
independently, without family members.
When the baby osprey flies down
south for the first time, the bird chooses a warm spot to settle down for the
season, the exact spot that the animal will return to year after year,
Following the first southern migration, the osprey
will stay South for an extra year without returning home, as the bird cannot yet
mate. Without the chance of mating, there is no point in the bird returning home
and back south during that year, as “migration is a dangerous business,”
particularly during hurricane season, according to Bierregaard.
come back to the same tree year after year after year,” Bierregaard
In the US, ospreys are mostly concentrated on the east coast, with
7,000 nesting pairs located in the Chesapeake Bay area alone, Bierregaard said.
In addition, the New England Coast, Florida and the Great Lakes are often hubs
for the birds, he added.
“Once we stopped using DDT they came back,”
He has tagged three ospreys who originate from the New
Hampshire Squam Lake Nature Science Center, where Iain MacLeod serves as
executive director. Out of the three birds tagged for migration from New
Hampshire to Brazil, the two juvenile birds died along the way, but the third is
alive and should return in five weeks, MacLeod said.
“We’ll be able to
welcome him home from his amazing trip,” he said.
One crucial outcome of
tracking ospreys at the Squam Lake center is the learning opportunity that this
presents to local students, who both come to the center and receive rangers at
their schools. One injured osprey that lives at the center is able to meet the
children, MacLeod explained.
“They can hear it, they can touch it, they
can smell it,” he said.
One possible outcome of this week’s conference ––
in MacLeod’s opinion – could be the compilation of ospreytracking information
from around the world onto one central website, where all of the bird watchers
would have access to the data.
Across the ocean, Mackrill, the conference
organizer from Rutland in the UK, tracks ospreys who fly from Great Britain over
France and to the Sahara Desert.
The birds who stop in Israel during the
winter, on the other hand, find their origins in more central European nations
like Finland, and end up sunning themselves in the warmth of east African
countries like Cameroon.
The Rutland Osprey Project began 25 years ago
lead by Tim Appleton – together with the group in Israel – during which
researchers began to reestablish the local osprey population that had been
absent for 150 years, Mackrill explained.
“It’s worked and they’re
nesting now,” Mackrill said, noting that the team has five nesting pairs in the
region. “We’ve followed their migration and learned a great deal.”
valuing the educational tools that develop alongside bird migration
technologies, Mackrill said that schools in the Rutland district have linked up
with schools in Gambia to follow specific birds together and exchange letters
and videos about the experience.
To provide this educational interchange,
however, the teachers and birding professionals must have “a global picture and
the help of satellites,” according to Prof. Amnon Ginati – head of the
integrated and telecommunications in the related applications department at the
European Space Agency.
“You can see the change from space,” he said,
noting that only this way can researchers map out migration patterns
Ginati is particularly involved with bringing this tracking
technology to schools in Africa, where the tools receive autonomous solar
While Israel is neither a migration beginning nor endpoint for
ospreys, it is a major “highway” for them, Leshem said. Hundreds of pairs pass
through the region each year through “the eastern flyway” that originates in
Finland, he explained.
Leshem said he has already approached Google about
the possibility of creating a bird migration site called Google Birds, using
satellite components in a similar manner to Google Earth.
“We want to get
[students] connected to wildlife through the Internet,” Leshem said.
goal would be to begin with ospreys, but then add raptors, storks and even
mammals after enough of the birds are covered, Leshem explained.
people to people – suddenly people see it’s a small world,” he said. “A European
and an American osprey are the same.”
Leshem, who has launched numerous
cooperative birding ventures among Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians,
stressed that such work cannot succeed unless it occurs on a regional
“It’s about emphasizing the migration of birds, but it’s also
about crossing cultural divides,” Mackrill agreed.
“Birds know no