There have been some incredible advances in the electronic tracking devices used in wildlife research. Telemetry devices have shrunk in weight, for sure, but there are trade-offs to realize the weight advantages.
What would you need to see to call the tracking devices you’d likely use in your next project ideal? Here are some points that we think are very important. What do you think?
Sub gram weight would allow you to study the smallest of birds and other small animals. Generally, the research permit issuing Bird Banding Lab want tracking devices to be no more than three per cent of the subject’s weight. In a study of birds weighing 21 grams or ¾ of an ounce, that calls for a tracking device no more than .63 grams! Pretty light stuff, for sure.
The best device would last the life of the bird. If your research project spans several seasons, but the available tracking devices don’t last that long, your project might include some leaps of faith to try to address missing evidence. Ideally, battery-powered telemetry devices for small birds would last far longer than the weeks to months some manufacturers claim. In terms of efficiency, solar panel technology has improved significantly. The smallest panel, efficiently designed and integrated, would provide sufficient power to ensure the most reliable data transmission for the life of your subject.
When it comes to programming and activating the wildlife telemetry devices, you don’t want to be hampered with turning tags on and off with clumsy magnets or infrared remote-controls . You’re in the field, and need devices ready to go when your study subject is in hand. Naturally, this can call for you to operate at night. Losing small pieces like magnets in the dark is almost guaranteed.
Data is the heart of your project, so you need to get your data reliably in a form you can use. Small bird telemetry systems depend on the tags you deploy signalling a receiving station, telling you when and where your subject is. The difference maker is in how your data is displayed. The user interface has got to be clean and easy to operate.
The best devices would be useful in multiple geographies, with no cause for concern on your part about other devices from the same manufacturer being mixed up with your data. Can you imagine the data showing your subject behaving like a completely different species, then apparently resuming its expected behavior? It can happen.
Let’s face it, harnesses can be a pain. Reducing the hassle factor would be great. If you want to use different materials or techniques to attach the devices to your subject, the manufacturer should be able to add some value here. The best small bird telemetry device would allow you harness options.
The problems with current telemetry devices for biologists studying small birds is that it still requires the researcher, you, to do a good deal of computer and telecommunications engineering. How much of this you’ll need to do will always depend on the design of your project. As far as small bird telemetry devices, you need them to weigh little, work for a relatively long time, reliably deliver accurate data, doesn’t require you to do much in the electronic signaling department, has no worry about problems from a limited number of device ID codes, has no on/off, and the manufacturer would help with attachment options.
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