Keeping Track of Endangered Murrelets with Radar



Grant’s Lagoon, where radar was used to study the highly endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet. There are estimated to be less than 25,000 left worldwide. Photo by Jenna Cragg

Jay Barrett/KMXT

Among the dozens of presentations during the first-ever Kodiak Marine Science Symposium was a report on using radar to track endangered birds on Kodiak Island. Jenna Cragg, a master’s student at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, is using the technique to find and track the elusive Kittlitz’s Murrelet. She conducted a preliminary study last year on the south end of the island, and plans to come back this summer to apply her technique to more areas.

Click "Read more" below to see a photo of the Kittlitz’s Murrelet and a screen shot of the radar track they leave.

110413.radar-murrelets.jpgThe radar tracks (in red ovals) of Kittlitz’s Murrelets flying in and out of the Ayakulik Valley. Image courtesy Jenna Cragg


A Kittlitz’s Murrelet in flight. USGS photo

(Radar Birds 1 55 sec "Well, murrelet are threatened … on ultramafic rock.")

Last summer Cragg and her colleagues set up the radar at Grant’s Lagoon to track the comings and goings of the birds out of the Ayakulik Valley:

(Radar Birds 2 23 sec "We’re using a marine radar … individual raindrops.")

She says it’s not as difficult as you might think to tell the birds apart from just their radar track:

(Radar Birds 3 45 sec "So at our site we didn’t … that’s really fast. (laughs)")

She said the murrelets, like puffins, have to flap hard and fly fast in the air because their wings are adapted to "flying" underwater in pursuit of their prey.

In similar studies in British Columbia, each survey site is visited six times a season. This summer, Cragg hopes to visit several spots around the island:

(Radar Birds 4 25 sec "I’m hoping to compare … across their ranges.")

The Kodiak Marine Science Symposium wrapped up yesterday afternoon. It was held to share the latest research on the marine environment with Kodiak residents.


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