A migratory bird’s journey under the microscope of scientists

“2TK”, this migratory bird that likes to spend the summer in Punta del Este, travels thousands of kilometers to reach its land every year. A long journey closely studied by scientists to better understand the behavior of these migratory birds.

With AFP

The first cold winds announce that winter is approaching in Punta del Este. It’s time for “2TK” to fly and leave their summer resort in Uruguay to return to northern Canada, a feat that fascinates science and moves local birdwatchers.

A bird observed closely by ornithologists

Identified by its green plastic ring attached to one leg with “2TK” inscribed in capital letters and a metal ring with nine digits attached to the other leg, this Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) spent the Australian summer on these cliffs lying along the promenade facing towards the Atlantic to eat mussels in the company of oyster fishermen (Haematopus) and other birds. It is when there is a shortage of food in the winter in Canada’s Arctic tundra that the headstones migrate to the southern part of the American continent, 15,000 km away. In April, “2TK” is now much more “chubby” and has changed its colors in shades of gray to brown and orange, its “wedding” plumage, with which it will return to its homeland to multiply, explains Alvaro Pérez Tort, 48-year-old amateur photographer, member of the Punta del Este Ornithological Observatory, which shows “2TK”‘s stay in Uruguay since 2016. He fell in love with “2TK” and waits every year to find him to record “as many times as possible” its presence at www.reportband.gov, the continental bird watching database. “The interesting thing is that behind a ringed bird there is a story, there is a city, a country or a distant place, a journey and people.”, thinks Alvaro Pérez Tort. With his location, he says to himself “that he is somehow a part” of this story while “helps spread it”.

A move that says a lot about this funny bird

According to the Bird Banding Laboratory, which coordinates the banding of one million birds a year in North America for research and conservation purposes, 2TK is about 14 years old. It was banded in 2012 in the American Delaware Bight on the Atlantic coast, an important stop for many North American migratory species. For Antonio Celis-Murillo, head of the bird public laboratory at the US Public Geological Survey Agency, based in Maryland, bird counts are crucial for “put the puzzle together” the movements of each bird. “Our work is only crowned with success thanks to the general public, to all the people who see and report a ringed bird.”he told AFP. “It’s simple information, but so valuable because it scientifically tells us a lot. Especially the censuses in South America that we lack.”, he says of 2TK. These studies make it possible to track the behavioral patterns of each species: migration path, locations, and length of stay, and then refine conservation strategies.

A population less present

According to a 2019 study published in the journal Science, three billion wild birds have disappeared from North America since 1970. Habitat loss affecting all biodiversity “clearly shows its impact on migratory birds”, who find it increasingly difficult to make their extraordinary journeys, says Adrian Azpiroz, a biologist and expert in bird protection who also promotes ecotourism initiatives. And although headstones are not as endangered as other coastal birds, their population has also declined and is now estimated at 300,000 individuals on the continent. Among them, only a few hundred or a few thousand spend the “winter” on the Uruguayan coast. Others prefer the southern part of Brazil, or even further south, the Argentine coast.

Species faithful to their land

Researchers also claim that long-range migratory birds have preferred wintering grounds and show high fidelity by returning there year after year, as is the case with 2TK. Uruguay and its many coastal lagoons make up the coasts “very productive from a food point of view” for coastal birds, ”says Azpiroz. That’s why 2TK would have already covered almost 350,000 km in the course of its life, which is equivalent to nine times around the Earth, an incredible feat for a bird of just over 20 centimeters. The sophisticated physiological and neurological mechanisms that make it possible to locate oneself with such precision after thousands of kilometers traveled on several weeks of flight are still being studied. Uruguayan birdwatchers like to think that there is also something resembling love in 2TK’s loyalty to Punta del Este.

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