Ned Rozell | Geophysical Institute Aug 3, 2014.
Julie Hagelin needed a fake bird. She found one in an unexpected place.
The biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is studying the mysterious olive-sided flycatcher, known for its piercing “quick, three beers!” heard above black spruce bogs throughout Alaska. The bird, which weighs as much as a dozen pennies and migrates as far as Bolivia, is declining throughout most of its range in North America. No one knows exactly where the birds go after they breed in the far north.
A major part of Hagelin’s project is attaching sunlight-cued trackers to the birds with a tiny harness. These feather-light “geolocators” require Hagelin and her helpers to capture the birds again the following year. When the birds return in spring, the biologists recover the tiny devices. They then extrapolate where the birds have been from daylight the geolocators record while exposed to sunlight.
That’s why Hagelin needed a faux flycatcher. She knows the most effective way of capturing a singing male is to challenge its machismo with the presence of a rival, and then to catch it with a net when it swoops to protect its territory. A bird decoy is more effective at pulling a bird from its perch than a song recording alone.
“Half the battle is getting the bird out of the treetop and into your net,” Hagelin said.
As she chatted about her challenge, a coworker asked Hagelin if she had considered creating her own flycatcher using a 3-D printer. Intrigued, she contacted Greg Shipman.