For the first time ever, researchers funded by three American zoos have affixed Argos (Doppler) transmitters to one of Central America’s most endangered bird species, the three-wattled bellbird, according to an announcement last week from Naples Zoo. The bird is characterized by its unique vocalizations, including its iconic bell-like sounds that register among the loudest birdcalls on the planet. The birds’ unusual name comes from their unmistakable vocalizations that can be heard over a kilometer away combined with the three long, prominent ‘wattles’ that hang from the corners of the mouth and beak of the male bellbirds.
The research will provide scientists with key conservation data about the birds habitat, the virgin cloud forest that is also home to tapirs, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, and hundreds of other bird species.
In late September 2014, a field research team traveled deep into the cloud forests of the Sierra de Agalta National Park in eastern Honduras to attach the state-of the-art, solar-powered Argos units to four of the rare birds (Procnias tricarunculatus) before releasing them back into the wild.
The Argos satellite system locates the transmitter using the Doppler effect. Microwave Telemetry provides the state-of-the-art monitoring devices, which are solar powered and weigh less than a fifth of an ounce allowing for the collection of this remote satellite data for the first time.
As the team set up their treetop equipment in the cloud forest, research team leader Dr. Robin Bjork described being mesmerized by the “symphony of loud bells, bonks, and squeaks calling all around us.”
Funded by Zoo Boise, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, this field research is a crucial component of the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group’s (ZCOG) Three-Wattled Bellbird Conservation Monitoring Program. This latest accomplishment has already enabled the researchers to begin studying the complex migratory movements of the bellbirds in their range between Honduras and Panama. The ultimate goal of the project is to better understand the behavioral ecology of the bellbirds in an effort to promote conservation of the species and the preservation of its tropical cloud forest habitat and its endangered wildlife.
Bellbirds congregate in the rugged Sierra de Agalta region of Eastern Honduras to feast on fruiting trees from July through September, then disperse in complex annual migratory movements between some of the most biodiverse and threatened regions of Central America. This research aims to uncover the mysteries of that migration.
“I’m personally excited about this project,” explained Tim Tetzlaff, Naples Zoo’s Director of Conservation. “ZCOG brought together a bellbird dream team of experts for an effort where normally you may only have one or two.” The field research of that team is being led by Dr. Robin Bjork, and includes Jenifer Hernández, a biologist with the Honduran Forestry, National Parks and Wildlife Institute (ICF), along with local conservationist Isidro Zuniga. Additional support is provided by Dr. Mark Bonta and Robert Hyman of the Honduran Conservation Coalition, and Said Lainez, Director of the Department of Wildlife at ICF.