Flying Under the Influence

"Breathalyzer" tests may yield avian conservation clues

06-01-2005 // Laura Tangley

They may not have to walk a straight line, but warblers and sparrows migrating between tropical wintering grounds and breeding sites in North America might be stopped for "Breathalyzer" tests. To give the tests, researchers capture birds in mist nests, then fit them with tiny masks that capture carbon dioxide as the animals exhale. Back in the lab, Brigham Young University biologist Kent Hatch analyzes the samples for chemical signatures of recently consumed foods such as insects or berries, data he hopes will help protect the habitats that are most important to migratory songbirds.

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