Recent Research: Geolocators on Golden-winged Warblers do not affect migratory ecology

With the use of geolocators on smaller and smaller birds, there have been concerns over their impact on migratory behaviors. This recent paper in The Condor provides evidence that use of geolocators does not produce measurable effects on return rates and other measures of health in Golden-winged warblers.


The use of light-level geolocators is increasingly common for connecting breeding and nonbreeding sites and identifying migration routes in birds. Until recently, the mass and size of geolocators precluded their use on songbird species weighing ,12 g. Reducing the mass of geolocators, such as by shortening or eliminating the light stalk, may make their deployment on small birds feasible, but may also inhibit their ability to receive light reliably, because small geolocators can be shaded by feathers. Here we report geolocator effects on migratory ecology of Golden-winged Warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) in Minnesota and Tennessee. We also evaluated whether stalk length influenced precision of location data for birds on the breeding grounds. At 8–10 g, Golden-winged Warblers are the smallest birds to be outfitted with geolocators to date. We found no differences in return rates, inter-annual territory fidelity, or body mass between geolocator-marked individuals and a control group of color-banded individuals. We observed no difference in return rates or variation in estimated breeding locations between birds marked with stalked geolocators and those with stalkless geolocators. Our results suggest that some small songbirds can be safely marked with geolocators. Light stalks appear to be unnecessary for Golden-winged Warblers; the added mass and drag of stalks can probably be eliminated on other small songbirds.


Peterson, Sean M. ,Henry M. Streby, Gunnar R. Kramer, Justin A. Lehman, David A. Buehler, and David E. Andersen. 2015. Geolocators on Golden-winged Warblers do not affect migratory ecology. The Condor. 117:256–261