RFID
RFID Talk Blog

RFID is for the birds!

RFID is used to track all kinds of wildlife, and now scientists are using the technology to track the feeding habits of common backyard birds. Scientists and students at Cornell Lab have affixed RFID tags to 125 individual birds of four species in order to learn more about their daily feeding habits.

Since the project began two years ago, the group has recorded more than 2.2 million visits to the bird feeders, which are equipped with RFID readers.

“We were blown away and thrilled with the amount of data that came in,” says David Bonter, Project FeederWatch director at the Cornell Lab. “This has opened up a whole new world of research by focusing on common backyard feeder birds which are the model organisms for answering bigger scientific questions.”

Like RFID in almost every application, scientists benefitted greatly from a savings in manpower. RFID allowed scientists to record data from 8,000 hours of continuous observations — at a cost of just six hours of feeder upkeep per week.

Some of the results were very surprising:

  • Individual birds took up to 203 seeds in a single day (some of these they almost certainly cached for later in the season).
  • Most chickadees had favorite feeders—one or two locations they habitually visited even though several other feeders were available within the typical home-range area of a chickadee.
  • Over three months, a single Tufted Titmouse drifted through the woods, frequenting three feeders one after another across a distance of more than half a mile.
  • A Black-capped Chickadee spent two months visiting a feeder daily, then abruptly moved nearly a half-mile away to a different feeder.
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