Did you know some wild birds turn their eggs 50 to 60 times a day during nesting season? Or in some species, the temperature of an egg inside a nest drops about 2.5 degrees from day to night?
Those are just some of the findings Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Scott Shaffer discovered during recent studies with his new high-tech egg loggers.
“The egg loggers open up a lot of new territory to explore what the birds are doing,” said Professor Shaffer, a wildlife biologist in the College of Science.
The egg loggers look like real eggs, but they’re far from it. The eggs are plastic, and made on a 3-D printer. Inside are micro-electronics similar to those used in smart devices such as tablets and cell phones.
An accelerometer and magnetometer measure motion and angle changes in three dimensions, and a thermistor monitors temperature.
Each sensor takes a reading every second, and gives researchers more definite estimates to calculate three-dimensional movements, and create 3-D animations of movement patterns, something not available until now.
Improving hatching rates
Egg turning is critical for embryonic development in most bird species. The information provided by the egg loggers could help researchers learn how to improve hatching rates of artificially incubated eggs.
In addition, researchers are seeking to better understand how man-made disturbances affect hatching success, and even learn how birds laden with certain contaminates like mercury influence hormone levels.
Shaffer and his team developed advanced egg loggers and placed them in the nests of five different-size bird species in geographic locations ranging from the tropics to Antarctica.
Technology aiding ecology
“From an ecological view, my long-term goal is to investigate whether birds turn their eggs differently based on the number of eggs in a nest, nest type, age and experience of parent birds, or breeding environment,” Professor Shaffer said.
Bio-logging technology has been used since the mid 1960s, but rapid changes in microprocessors have reduced component size and increased the sophistication of senor technology.
“It allows us to study wild animals in ways that weren’t possible 30 or 40 years ago,” Shaffer said.