Remote sensing flying animals

Researchers set up radar equipment at dusk near Horicon Wildlife Refuge in east-central Wisconsin. Image courtesy or J. Bartholmai.

NOROCK scientists and collaborators are working to advance their tools of the trade. Specifically, weather radars, portable radars, thermal imaging cameras, and automated radio tracking are capable mature technologies, able to detect the movement patterns and other behaviors of flying animals at night and at distances far beyond the limits of human vision. Use of automated field instrumentation allows for continuous, reliable, objective data collection. Moreover, automation frees talented and expensive human resources from conducting rote tasks. However, electronics-based technologies are part of fast moving industries with new advances in hardware and software emerging all constantly, leading to new capabilities waiting to be exploited. Consider, for example, the US network of weather radars and its ability to capture the movements of flying animals, not just precipitation. Today, this network automatically gathered and archived data and enables biologists to study the behavioral patterns of hundreds of millions of birds, bats, and insects at minimal cost. Scientists at NOROCK are leaders in harnessing the power of these radars to study flying animals in relation to their conservation and management. The days are already here when a biologist sitting in Delaware can study the habitat use patterns of waterfowl in California without ever leaving their seat.


Zenzal, T. J., Jr., R. H. Diehl, and F. R. Moore. In press. The impact of radio telemetry devices on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Condor.

Chilson, P. B., W. F. Frick, J. F. Kelly, K. W. Howard, R. P. Larkin, R. H. Diehl, J. K. Westbrook, T. A. Kelly, and T. H. Kunz. 2012. Partly cloudy with a chance of migration: weather, radars, and aeroecology. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 93:669-686.

Larkin, R. P. and R. H. Diehl. 2012. Radar techniques for wildlife biology. in C. E. Braun, editor. Techniques for wildlife investigations and management, 7th edition. Wildlife Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Bridge, E. S., K. Thorup, M. S. Bowlin, P. B. Chilson, R. H. Diehl, R. W. Fléron, P. Hartl, R. Kays, J. F. Kelly, W. D. Robinson, and M. Wikelski. 2011. Technology on the move: Recent and forthcoming innovations for tracking migratory birds. Bioscience. 61:689-698.

Randall, L. A., R. H. Diehl, B. C. Wilson, W. C. Barrow, and C. W. Jeske. 2011. Potential use of Weather Radar to Study Movements of Wintering Waterfowl. Journal of Wildlife Management. 75(6):1324-1329

Robinson, W., M. Bowlin, I. Bisson, J. Shamoun-Baranes, K. Thorup, R. Diehl, T. Kunz, S. Mabey, and D. Winkler. 2009. Integrating concepts and technologies at the frontiers of bird migration. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 8: 354–361.

Buler, J. J. and R. H. Diehl. 2009. Quantifying bird density during migratory stopover using weather surveillance radar. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. 47:2741-2751.

Diehl, R. H., and R. P. Larkin. 2005. Introduction to the WSR-88D (NEXRAD) for ornithological research. in C. J. Ralph and T. D. Rich, editors. Bird Conservation Implementation and Integration in the Americas: Proceedings of the Third International Partners in Flight Conference 2002. Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albany, California.

Diehl, R. H. and R. P. Larkin. 1998. Providing resources for researchers on the world wide web: some perspectives. BioScience. 48:313-315.

Larkin, R. P., A. Raim, and R. H. Diehl. 1996. Performance of a non-rotating direction finder for automatic radio tracking of wildlife. Journal of Field Ornithology. 67:59-71

[other publications related to migratory birds and energy development]

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