New tracking tower to help researchers learn about NC migratory birds

For those of a certain age, the 20-foot antenna tower probably doesn’t look much different from those roof-top monstrosities extending skyward decades ago to watch “I Love Lucy” or “All in the Family.”

But it’s location, standing like a solitary guardian on a sandy berm set back from the ocean on undeveloped Lea-Hutaff Island in Pender County, might raise some eyebrows.

The tower, however, isn’t debris left over from the last hurricane to defeat The Cape Fear region. It’s a cutting-edge tracking station that biologists hope can help fill in some of the holes on how human interactions, predation, loss of habitat and climate change are impacting migratory birds.

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“What this will help us show is where they are and when,” said Lindsay Addison, a coastal biologist with Audubon North Carolina. “Right now, we have some ideas, but we really don’t know what’s flying by.”

Royal terns stand on the shoreline on Lea-Hutaff Island Friday June 10, 2022 along the North Carolina Coast in Pender County.

Funded through a $5,000 donation from the local Cape Fear Audubon chapter and run by Audubon North Carolina in partnership with the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), the tower works by picking up signals from any bird with a radio tag that flies within 9 miles of the tracking station. The data is then uploaded in real-time via the local cell network to the internet, where it can be viewed and used by anyone.

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