Previous studies using thermal imaging cameras (TI) have used target size as an indicator of target altitude when radar was not available, but this approach may lead to errors if birds that differ greatly in size are actually flying at the same altitude. To overcome this potential difficulty and obtain more accurate measures of the flight altitudes and numbers of individual migrants, we have developed a technique that combines a vertically pointed stationary radar beam and a vertically pointed thermal imaging camera (VERTRAD/TI). The TI provides accurate counts of the birds passing through a fixed, circular sampling area in the TI display, and the radar provides accurate data on their flight altitudes. We analyzed samples of VERTRAD/TI video data collected during nocturnal fall migration in 2000 and 2003 and during the arrival of spring trans-Gulf migration during the daytime in 2003. We used a video peak store (VPS) to make time exposures of target tracks in the video record of the TI and developed criteria to distinguish birds, foraging bats, and insects based on characteristics of the tracks in the VPS images and the altitude of the targets. The TI worked equally well during daytime and nighttime observations and best when skies were clear, because thermal radiance from cloud heat often obscured targets. The VERTRAD/TI system, though costly, is a valuable tool for measuring accurate bird migration traffic rates (the number of birds crossing 1609.34 m [1 statute mile] of front per hour) for different altitudinal strata above 25 m. The technique can be used to estimate the potential risk of migrating birds colliding with man-made obstacles of various heights (e.g., communication and broadcast towers and wind turbines)—a subject of increasing importance to conservation biologists.
Monitoring Bird Migration with a Fixed-Beam Radar and a Thermal-Imaging Camera
Gauthreaux, S. Jr.; Livingston, J. (2006). Monitoring Bird Migration with a Fixed-Beam Radar and a Thermal-Imaging Camera. Journal of Field Ornithology, 77(3), 319-328.