Nightingale’s Journey Provides Valuable Migratory Information

July 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

While being fairly nondescript in appearance, the nightingale is legendary for its amazing singing ability, which can often be heard at night, as well as in daylight hours. The name nightingale literally means ‘night songstress’ revealing the misconception early writers had that it is the female that produces the complex range of trills, whistles and gurgles, when in fact it is the male. It has long puzzled researchers as to where exactly in Africa these migratory birds spent the northern hemisphere’s winter months. Now thanks to technological advances, it has been possible for scientists in Norfolk to track a single nightingale’s 3,000 mile migratory journey, thereby providing invaluable information that will hopefully assist in halting the decline in numbers of this fascinating bird.

In April 2009, scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) captured a male nightingale near Methwold Hythe in Norfolk and fitted it with a geolocator – a tiny device for tracking the bird’s position. This new technology has proven to be vastly superior in providing accurate information as compared to the method of ringing birds which has been used for decades prior to this. The information gathered helps scientist not only to examine threats to the wellbeing of breeding birds in their home territory, but also to evaluate whether migratory destinations of the birds are impacting negatively on their numbers.

Codenamed OAD, the nightingale left its home territory in Norfolk on July 25, 2009, arriving in southern France in mid-August. By September, OAD had arrived in northern Morocco, where it remained for around three weeks. The nightingale continued on to the Western Sahara, where it appeared to stop for a while before continuing to Senegal in November, and from there to Guinea Bissau where it remained until returning to Norfolk in February 2010. Due to the locator failing, the exact route of the return journey is not known, nevertheless it was captured by researchers about 50 yards from the spot where it was initially found in April 2009.

No doubt, the information gleaned from OAD’s epic journey will be of great value to BTO as they continue their work of understanding the pressures faced by birds migrating to Africa.

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