Pantex Wildlife Biologist Tracking Purple Martin Movements

Pantex wildlife biologist Jim Ray will spend this weekend deploying geo-locator and new GPS data-loggers as part of research studying the movements and behaviors of Purple Martins.

Ray and several volunteers from West Texas A&M and Texas Tech Universities, will be capturing the Martins and affixing small data-logging tracking devices to help expand scientific knowledge about the birds. The devices were provided by the Department of Energy and Pantex in connection with a federal directive to help study and preserve migratory birds.

“Purple Martins are declining in some areas of the United States, and it is critical we continue to learn about their year-round needs and protect them,” says Ray, “the University of Manitoba in Canada is our major collaborator in this work, and there are five other strategically located deployment sites across the range of this bird.”

So far, Ray has banded more than 11,000 Purple Martins, and since 2007, geo-locators – which weigh 1.5 grams and estimate the location of the birds by recording sunrise and sunset times – have expanded the scientific knowledge of the birds’ movements.

Researchers discovered the birds spend up to a month and a half flying south to Brazil in the fall but return north to their U.S. breeding colonies in only two weeks during spring.

The new GPS technology allows researchers to find specific roosting sites and study use of habitat in important stopover and winter areas during their annual treks to and from the Amazon Basin of Brazil during the non-breeding season.

This is the fifth year geolocators have been used by Pantex and the third for GPS backpacks.

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