Researchers fit birds at Great Salt Lake with satellite transmitters

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OGDEN, Utah – The Great Salt Lake is home to many migratory birds, and a professor at Weber State University has a new tool he believes will help foster a better understanding of some of those birds.

American avocets nest near the Great Salt Lake, but experts said they aren’t sure where the bird goes when it migrates. They said it's possible the birds go to Mexico.

Researchers have been trapping and banding the birds in order to track their movements. Eight birds were fitted with high-tech tracking devices.

“We place a satellite transmitter on the back of the bird,” said John Cavitt, who is a professor of zoology at Weber State University.

Researchers hope the devices will net 2 to 5 years' worth of data.

“We're interested in how American avocets use Great Salt Lake during the time they're here,” Cavitt said. “How they get to their wintering grounds. What routes they are taking, whether they stop at important lakes along the way.”

Cavitt said the data will be used to help guide conservation efforts in the western United States and maybe into Mexico as well.

“We have a lot of concern about the habitat on the Pacific coast of Mexico; It's being developed at a fairly rapid rate,” he said.

Cavitt said when it comes to protecting animals, it’s important to cover all of the areas they reside in.

“If we conduct conservation activities in only one portion of their habitat, we still can’t save the species,” he said. “We need to be concerned about the entire flyway.”

The transmitters were funded through a grant from Rio Tinto Kennecott, and the devices weigh less than 3 percent of the bird’s body weight.

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