The availability of small, lightweight tracking devices enhances our ability to study birds during mobile phases of their lives. Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor, a model species of wild songbird, are well-studied during their breeding season; but our understanding of their biology at other times of the year, when they are not tied to the fixed location of a nest, is more limited. We developed a lightweight radio tag with no battery (solar nanotag) to study the movements of small animals, and we deployed it to explore the behavior of Tree Swallows after the end of their summer breeding season. We tagged 32 breeding adult swallows and 36 juveniles and monitored their presence and absence at the breeding site during the post-fledging period. Although our observations are based on very small sample sizes, the tags revealed previously unknown patterns in Tree Swallow behavior during the post-breeding season. Some Tree Swallow fledglings continued to visit the site repeatedly in the months following the nesting season, with the latest detection occurring on September 30th; by contrast, all adults had permanently departed by the end of July. These results inform future hypotheses about post-breeding movements in Tree Swallows. But, more generally, the detection of tagged swallows on their distant wintering grounds, seven months after tagging, indicates the potential of studying small passerine movements throughout their entire lifetimes, and suggests a rich array of applications for these "Life Tags" to study the movements of small animals world-wide.
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Pegan, Teresa M.; Craig, David P.; Gulson-Castillo, Eric R.; Gabrielson, Richard M.; Kerr, Wayne Bezner; MacCurdy, Robert; Powell, Steven P.; and Winkler, David W., "Solar-powered radio tags reveal patterns of post-fledging site visitation in adult and juvenile Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor" (2018). Mechanical Engineering Faculty Contributions. 76.