Blogging Birds is the name of a web-site run by a group of researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in conjunction with members of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). The site’s byline, The lives of red kites, told by computers, sums up what the site is all about.
The Red kite is a species of raptor that, according to the web site, was once widespread in the UK and, after having been almost extirpated (down to 10 breeding pairs in Wales in the 1940’s) is making something of a comeback.
What the researchers have done is to fit several birds with satellite transmitters that provide accurate positions for the birds several times per day. These can be plotted on a map which anyone can see online. So far, pretty cool, but there’s more!
In addition to the geo-tracking, the researchers have linked in information from other databases that tell them about the areas visited by the birds. They know if an area is urban or rural and, based on land use information, can guess at how a bird might be feeding itself. They also know when a kite is near its home turf or if it is exploring far outside its normal range. Finally, if their path crosses that of one of the other tracked kites, they have information about their possible interactions with others of their species.
The final piece that let’s them create blog postings on behalf of the kites is something called Natural Language Generation which synthesizes all the data with known kite behaviour and spits out the weekly computer generated postings that anyone can see. Looking at the web-site today I see that they have four blogs on tap for the kites: Wyvis, Moray, Millie and Ussie. There appear to be other tracked kites as well with one of them, Beauly, mentioned in Millie‘s latest post for the week of August 12 to 18.
It will be interesting to follow one or more of the kites over longer periods of time. Perhaps these blogs can help to reduce the animosity that once almost led to the Red Kite’s extirpation from the British Isles.
Of the three most common North American kites, the Red Kite is closest taxonomically to the Mississippi Kite of the south-eastern US sharing the same sub-family (Milvinae) but different genera. The White-tailed and Swallow-tailed Kites are both from a different sub-family (Elaninae). All of these kites are from the family Accipitridae of diurnal birds of prey.
The related species of Black Kite is sometimes seen in England, usually during migration. Both it and the Red Kite are from the same genus Milvus and have been known to hybridize.