Over 10 years SEO/BirdLife’s Migra programme has gathered information on 1173 birds belonging to 33 different species

  • Ever since 2011, SEO/BirdLife has been working in collaboration with the Iberdrola Spain Foundation to study the migration and spatial ecology of birds tagged with remote tracking devices
  • The information gleaned over the past 10 years is owed to the joint efforts of hundreds of collaborators and companies from Spain and abroad

Migratory birds are the hardest to preserve since their future depends on the way the species is treated in the various countries they travel to throughout their life cycle. As a result, our ability to preserve them depends on knowing where they are in each period of the year.

In 2011, SEO/BirdLife launched the Migra programme in collaboration with the Iberdrola Spain Foundation in order to monitor the movements and patterns of migratory birds in Spain and find out all about where each species goes and understand the spatial ecology of every stop in their annual life cycle. Ten very fruitful years have gone by since the programme was launched, having successfully studied over 30 different species.

So far, the Migra programme has gathered information on 1173 tagged birds belonging to 33 different species, building up a database of millions of locations thanks to hundreds of collaborators and participating companies from Spain and abroad. Tagging has revealed not only their movements, but also a number of preservation issues that these birds face within Spanish borders. A great many birds have lost their lives to gunshots, electrocution or poisoning, but this information helps us to tackle the issues wherever they are happening.

“Having scientific data allows us to more effectively and thoroughly preserve wildlife. Learning more about birdlife means we can assess how healthy our planet is,” explains Asunción Ruiz, Managing Director of SEO/BirdLife. “We have spent 10 years working on the Migra programme with a clear focus on science and technology, and thanks to the data gleaned we now know how climate change and the destruction of habitats are affecting our wildlife. The time has come to take action. The birds are telling us as much and giving us the information we need to address the major crises of the 21st century,” concludes Ms Ruiz.

The Iberdrola Spain Foundation is taking part in this programme within its efforts to support biodiversity, one of its main areas of activity.

Regarding these efforts, Fernando García, the President of the Iberdrola Spain Foundation, says, “we are very pleased to see that Migra has become a collaborative platform where many institutions share the will to gather thorough information with which to better preserve our biodiversity, as well as making our findings available to everyone, free of charge and transparently.”

National and international collaboration and dissemination

This has all been possible thanks to the joint efforts of over 400 collaborators and more than 50 institutions in Spain and abroad over the past ten years. With so many organisations and bird experts working in close collaboration, the Migra programme has been a great success.

A key part of this project consists in publishing and disseminating the results achieved. So far, five digital monographs have been published with information on migration patterns, movements and spatial ecology revealed by the Migra programme regarding the Audouin’s gull, the booted eagle, the white stork, Scopoli’s shearwater and Bulwer’s petrel, all of which can be found on the SEO/BirdLife website. The programme has also released 14 papers in various international science journals, including the prestigious Evolution (the world’s top journal dedicated to studying organic evolution and the integration of the various scientific fields linked to evolution), focusing on changes in the migratory patterns of the common swift, as well as a number of papers and articles in national and international magazines dedicated to nature and the environment.

Technology to boost preservation

In order to monitor the movements of different species and understand their spatial ecology, certain birds are being tagged with cutting-edge remote tracking devices (satellite and GPS-GSM transmitters, GPS and GPS-GSM data loggers, geolocation devices, nano-GPS and microdataloggers), which reveal the bird’s position several times a day. This technology also tells us where the birds are throughout the year, how long they spend in their breeding and wintering grounds, when they begin to migrate, what route they follow, which resting spots and habitats they use to regain their strength, how quickly they fly, at what altitude and so on, all of which is then linked to meteorological, geographical and other factors that may affect their movements.

Learning more to preserve and protect

Migratory birds are oblivious to borders, so their future preservation depends on protecting the areas they travel to around the year.

The Migra programme has revealed that booted eagles spend winter in the Sahel and that they go back to their wintering sites every year to the same breeding grounds, which we have found are not circular but eccentric areas depending on the habitat surrounding each nest. The white stork has changed its migratory patterns due to the global changes caused by mankind: Most adults now winter in the Iberian peninsula feeding from landfills and rice fields, both of which are new habitats created by humans over the past two decades, whilst their young continue to migrate to the Sahel. Our common swifts spend the winter in central Africa, from the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and fly more than 20,000 kilometres a year on their migratory journey. The European roller spends winters in Namibia and Botswana, over 9,000 kilometres away from its nesting grounds, and its migratory path varies from one population to another: Birds from the east fly over the Mediterranean and the Sahara desert on a relatively straight south-bound path, whilst birds from central and western Europe steer away from the desert along the African coast and the Sahel on a longer flight, all to the same wintering grounds.

The movements birds make are influenced by a number of factors. A full description of every movement made by each species over their annual cycles is provided in this programme, affording details on the biology of each one, not only in terms of their migratory patterns, but also during the mating and wintering seasons. The result is a highly comprehensive database with information on changes in bird behaviour caused by such widespread processes as climate change and dwindling biodiversity, and also by much more contained, local issues such as high mortality rates due to pesticides, illegal hunting, destruction of habitats or poorly designed infrastructure.