"Icarus and the miniaturisation of telemetry means we are going to be able to monitor the natural world for the first time. We know hardly anything about bird migrations. We can now see that in evolutionary terms birds must know when it's a good time to migrate. We knew it was something like this but not at the individual level. This is answering questions and posing more," says Kasper Thorup, a bird migration researcher at Copenhagen university.
Until 10 years ago, satellite tracking was used only on large animals which could be fitted with powerful transmitters with long lives, but the new solar-powered devices only switch on when a satellite passes overhead, and are getting smaller every year.
"By next year we hope to have devices that weigh just 2g, which will be small enough to place on songbirds like wood thrushes, warblers and finches," says Chris Hewsom, research ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). "These will allow us to track birds like nightjars, too. We are getting to the stage we could do swifts, which would need devices that weighed no more than 1g."
There is also hope that this project can address the decline of a number of bird populations. Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at William and Mary college in Virginia, USA says,"Understanding the routes they take can help us preserve them and prevent higher than normal rates of infection among wildlife populations. We still don't know where they go and many are only here for a few months. Without knowing exactly where they go and when we can not understand how to conserve them."
We are getting close to a full life cycle understanding of birds," says Watts. "We used to see birds at different places at different times, but we did not know they were the same ones. What we are seeing now for the first time is the way birds connect places. We are reducing the size of the world."
You can read the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/19/migration-secrets-birds-icarus-space-station