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Tagging Black-Crowned Night Herons

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Published on Jul 18, 2014

--This research was made possible by the generous support from the Smithsonian Women's Committee--

Every spring and summer the Bird House hosts some very special migratory guests -- about 100 black crowned night herons. The Bird House is their only rookery in Washington, D.C.

For the past century, the birds arrive in April each year and depart between August and September, but scientists did not know where their southern destinations were or what challenges they faced to reach them.

In summer 2013 Smithsonian Migratory Bird Scientists got some answers. They attached tracking devices to four birds. It was the first glimpse they had into the birds' migration. They received valuable data for 3 months, until the devices died.

This year they tagged six more birds using more technologically advanced devices. The light-weight, solar-powered devices use cell phone technology to transmit locational data every 2 hours.

During the early morning of July 7, 2014 scientists caught the herons, weighed them, took a feather sample for DNA testing, tagged them, attached the backpack-like transmitters to them, and released them.

The devices do not harm the birds. They are custom-fitted to each individual bird and sewed closed to prevent them from falling off or causing any harm. The six herons can be seen flying around the Bird House with the devices.

Precision real-time tracking will help scientists understand what challenges migratory birds like black-crowned night herons face on their marathon journeys. #WeSaveSpecies

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