GPS Tracking Being Used to Study the Critically Endangered Kuriri

27 Mar 2019

A team of volunteers, international scientists and center staff have attached GPS tracking devices to the backs of small birds known as kuriri, or Pacific golden plovers,with the hopes of obtaining answers to questions about why these little creatures coming to New Zealand are declining.

The Miranda shores, in the Firth of Thames, are the kuriri’s part-time home. Several decades ago, each year they’d arrive in thousands, escaping the winter of the Northern Hemisphere. Now there is fewer than 200 that visit.

It’s a mystery why the numbers of these birds visiting New Zealand have declined so much. Most of the birds’ life is also a mystery.

Every year, the small birds voyage in locations close to the Arctic Ocean for nesting. Whether this is Alaska or Sibera is not known. It’s also not known which route the birds take and where they may stop during their journey. There’s theory there may be a degraded habitat they could be using as a stop-off point.

Identifying the answers could be a great first step in learning more about the birds’ decline.

The researchers raised money for 10 light-weight GPS tracking devices — each $2,000. The Department of Conservation granted permission for the week-long attempt at tagging the birds. A team of international plover experts and Massey University Animal Ethics Committee all gathered from Brigham Young University-Hawaii and Montana State University to join in.

The volunteers mapped the locations out where the birds gather and took note how many birds there were, what the birds were doing and if wind direction or strength and tide levels changed the birds’ behavior.

A few times over the months, the birds shifted location. It appeared they finally had settled in one spot ideal for the researchers to set netting to capture the birds. A location was prepared for the netting and the researchers made plans on how to “twinkle” the kuriri towards the net, which is described as a very calm, slow way of herding birds.

They abandoned it completely a week ago.

After receiving information about the favorite flight area of the birds by the volunteers, the team ended up catching two birds. One female and one male, both adult and big enough for carrying the GPS tracking devices on their migration.

Researchers hoped they’d be able to catch another eight birds fitted with the GPS tracking devices.

The tracking devices will send data to satellites at intervals the scientists set. Researchers hope the batteries will last a whole year so the return journey of the kuriris can also be tracked in the case there is a different route.

The kuriri’s progress will be updated and provided to the public on the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center’s website so they can track the migration along with the researchers.

What the Kuriri is and Why It’s Endangered

The kuriri or also called the Pacific Golden-Plover, is a beautiful shorebird that breeds in western Siberia and Alaska and winters on the islands of the Pacific Ocean to northeastern Africa from southeast Asia. It’s not common in North America and can be found breeding in Alaska and wintering and migrating along the Pacific Coast in small numbers.

Big numbers of shorebirds are killed in some parts of eastern Asia for food, including kuriris in some areas. Wintering locations on Pacific islands susceptible to climate change-related sea level rise.

 

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