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The University of Alicante spies on trumpeter birds in the privacy of their nest



Alicante, 11 January 2011

The bird does not know, but the intruder object, placed for days beside its nest cloaked with scrub- is the artificial eye of another animal its species fears, but in this case, it has become an advocate for their survival. The bird is a trumpeter finch, a bird of arid zones. The object is a spy camera. At the other end is the University of Alicante, which wants to know what are the predators that threaten it.

The trumpeter finch (Bucanetes githagineus for scientists) gets its common name from the sound of her singing, because instead of chirping, it seems to sound like a little toy trumpet. It is a rare protected bird, native of dry and warm areas. It is considered newly installed in the Iberian Peninsula and found a decade ago in the province of Alicante, but it seems that global warming is promoting its expansion. A research line of the UA Department of Ecology, led by Germán López Iborra, has followed this investigation for years.


Germán Lopez explains that its existence has been found in Almeria since the 60's and there seems to be some observations of specimens from a century ago in the southern peninsula. Then it went up to Murcia and by the year 2000 ornithologists found its nesting in Alicante. It comes from North Africa, from where it comes by avoiding the Mediterranean narrowest areas. Although being a newcomer, scientists say it can not be classified as an invader since it does not displace any native bird.


This is a small bird with a striking orange beak and reddish plumage, which at a distance, confers on it a very effective camouflage. This fact, along with their building nests in hollow of bit crowded ravines slopes, makes them easily pass unnoticed, even for experts and enthusiasts. In Alicante,they preferably install in the network of the Monegros watercourses, but they have also been seen breeding in the Torremanzanas river and the chain saw of Albatera.


This specie is sensitive to cold, and it also escapes from drought, which impairs the production of seed that feeds them, particularly esparto grass. Studies conducted by the UA have included the bird banding of some specimens, which has revealed that in their seasonal migrations have reached the Ebro delta.

"Although it is not exactly a migratory bird" says Germain López Iborra –it moves by dispersing themselves. We really do not know exactly how far it goes, but we know they mate in North Africa. This has been proven with genetic testing. "It is believed that despite its small size, it is able to cross The Straits.


La línea de investigación que dirige Germán López está patrocinada por la empresa Reciclados y Compostaje Piedra Negra S.A., del sector de tratamiento de residuos sólidos urbanos. El proyecto surgió en 2002 como medida compensatoria de impacto ambiental de la instalación de una planta de tratamiento. De hecho, la presencia del camachuelos trompeteros el área del Monnegre ha sido el principal motivo de que haya sido declarada zona de especial protección de aves, lo que ha permitido también proteger a otras especies autóctonas, pero hoy en grave declive.

Desde su inicio el proyecto de investigación ha ido cumpliendo diversos objetivos. El actual es conocer cuáles son los depredadores de los huevos y polluelos en los nidos. Para ello los investigadores de la UA instalan cámaras "espía", webcams capaces de grabaciones nocturnas en infrarrojo. Se colocan disimuladas entre esparto, instaladas a uno o dos palmos de los nidos, por lo general construidos en huecos de difícil acceso visual. Se ponen en marcha cuando detectan movimiento. Un cable de 15 o 20 metros conecta estas cámaras con una batería y los dispositivos de almacenamiento de las grabaciones en tarjetas de memoria. Estos dispositivos han sido diseñados y montados por el Taller de Electrónica de la UA.

En las fotos, montajes camuflados de las cámas espía.


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