First Ever Doppler Satellite Monitoring of Loudest Birds on Earth

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Naples Zoo announces for the first time ever, researchers funded by three American zoos have affixed Argos (Doppler) transmitters to one of Central America’s most endangered bird species, the three-wattled bellbird, characterized by its unique vocalizations including their iconic bell-like sounds that register among the loudest birdcalls on the planet.

Argos transmitter weighing less than a fifth of an ounce on a three-wattled bellbird.

symphony of loud bells, bonks, and squeaks calling all around us

For the first time ever, researchers have affixed Argos (Doppler) transmitters to one of Central America’s most endangered bird species, the three-wattled bellbird. This enigmatic bird is characterized by unique vocalizations including their iconic bell-like sounds that register among the loudest birdcalls on the planet. Funded by three American zoos, this research expects to provide key conservation data in a virgin cloud forest that is also home to tapirs, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, and hundreds of other bird species.

In late September 2014, a field research team traveled deep into the cloud forests of the Sierra de Agalta National Park in eastern Honduras to attach state-of the-art, solar-powered Argos units to four of the rare bellbirds (Procnias tricarunculatus) before releasing them back into the wild. The Argos satellite system locates the transmitter using the Doppler effect. Microwave Telemetry provided the state-of-the-art monitoring devices, which are solar powered and weigh less than a fifth of an ounce allowing for the collection of this remote satellite data for the first time.

As the team set up their treetop equipment in the cloud forest, research team leader Dr. Robin Bjork described being mesmerized by the “symphony of loud bells, bonks, and squeaks calling all around us.” The birds’ unusual name comes from their unmistakable vocalizations that can be heard over a kilometer away combined with the three long, prominent ‘wattles’ that hang from the corners of the mouth and beak of the male bellbirds.

Funded by Zoo Boise, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, this field research is a crucial component of the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group’s (ZCOG) Three-Wattled Bellbird Conservation Monitoring Program. This latest accomplishment has already enabled the researchers to begin studying the complex migratory movements of the bellbirds in their range between Honduras and Panama. The ultimate goal of the project is to better understand the behavioral ecology of the bellbirds in an effort to promote conservation of the species and the preservation of its tropical cloud forest habitat and its endangered wildlife.

ZCOG Executive Director Dr. Daniel Hilliard says that, “the Three-Watttled Bellbird Conservation Monitoring Program aims to fill a gap in scientific knowledge by providing a better understanding of the migratory patterns of the bird, which are crucial to developing comprehensive conservation planning.” Bellbirds congregate in the rugged Sierra de Agalta region of Eastern Honduras to feast on abundant fruiting trees from July through September. But then bellbirds disperse in complex annual migratory movements between some of the most biodiverse and threatened regions of Central America. This research aims to uncover some of these mysteries of that migration.

“I’m personally excited about this project,” explains Tim Tetzlaff, Naples Zoo’s Director of Conservation. “ZCOG brought together a bellbird dream team of experts for an effort where normally you may only have one or two.” The field research of that team is being led by Dr. Robin Bjork, and includes Jenifer Hernández, a biologist with the Honduran Forestry, National Parks and Wildlife Institute (ICF), along with local conservationist Isidro Zuniga. Additional support is provided by Dr. Mark Bonta and Robert Hyman of the Honduran Conservation Coalition, and Said Lainez, Director of the Department of Wildlife at ICF.

Dr. Mark Bonta, project consultant and author of Seven Names for the Bellbird (Texas A&M Press, 2003), hopes that the research “will not only expand our information about the three-wattled bellbird, but also draw attention to sustainable development and forest management in the Sierra de Agalta region.” Using this effective technology, the research team is already collecting data from the four bellbirds to do just that.

Zoo Conservation Outreach Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and promotes wildlife and habitat conservation partnerships throughout the Americas. For more information, visit http://www.zcog.org and to hear the famous call visit http://www.arkive.org/three-wattled-bellbird/procnias-tricarunculatus/video-13.html

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Tim Tetzlaff
Naples Zoo
+1 239-262-5409 Ext: 122
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Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
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