Tracking birds through feathers may help save them from injuries

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Washington, July 7 (ANI): In a new research, a team of scientists is studying birds by using DNA in their feathers to track their movements and habits, a technique that may help prevent injuries to birds.

The research is being done by Andrew DeWoody, associate professor of forestry and natural resources, Purdue University, and his team.

DeWoody's studies were done in Kazakhstan with imperial eagles, a top predator of international concern because its population is declining.

He studies eagles by using DNA in their feathers to track their movements and habits.

This technique allows DeWoody to study larger populations and prevents injuries to birds because they aren't captured.

Eagles can be hard to find, they often require live bait to attract and, with sharp talons and beaks capable of snapping off human fingers, they pose a risk to their would-be captors.

Instead of catching eagles, DeWoody collects their feathers and uses the small amount of DNA in them to create a tag that corresponds to a particular bird.

Those tags can be used to determine population, parentage, roosting patterns and sex ratio.

The feathers give a good picture of recent eagle habits because they do not survive long in Kazakhstan's winters.

Any feathers collected after the winter thaw, then, had to have been recently dropped.

In one study, DeWoody's team found that an area thought to have about 40 juvenile eagles living in it based on human observation actually had closer to 300.

The work also helped researchers understand more about the roosting habits of some eagles that use a nest for months at a time versus others who float around from roost to roost.

Another study showed that DNA could be used to distinguish eagle species from one another, and that imperial, golden and white-tailed eagles often utilized the same roosts at the same time.

The use of noninvasively collected samples for genetic analyses has dramatically impacted studies of species that are threatened, endangered, or sensitive to disturbance.

Although the pioneering work employing noninvasively collected samples for genetic analyses used hair or feces to study mammals, naturally shed feathers are increasingly used to study avian demography and behavior.

Studies on larger birds such as eagles, vulture, or herons can particularly benefit from the incorporation of research that uses noninvasively collected samples, as these species are often challenging to study by traditional means because they are difficult to capture and mark. (ANI)

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