The scientific study of bird migration has developed over a period of about 120 years, beginning with the observations conducted at bird migration hotspots, such as Heligoland in the southern North Sea (Gatke 1895) and Fair Isle off northern Scotland (Clarke 1912). Early studies were mainly observational, but were frequently augmented by use of a gun to aid identification. The ringing and release of live birds began around the turn of the nineteenth century, and rapidly expanded as a scientific and recreational pursuit throughout the twentieth century, bringing an end to shotgun ornithology in migration studies. Observation and bird ringing were the major methodologies used through the first half of the twentieth century, but bird ringing also facilitated large-scale transplantation experiments designed to study the homing and navigational skills of birds. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, newer and increasingly more sophisticated methodologies were continually added, gradually spreading migration research to an increasing range of species, and enabling previously intractable questions to be addressed. Most of these methodologies, including radar and radio-tracking, were developed for very different purposes, but soon proved of value in studies of bird migration. Different approaches are being increasingly applied through collaborations between different specialists, integrating approaches which combine theory, field observations and laboratory studies, and linking physics, physiology and ecology with behaviour.
Migration research has been heavily dependent on the complementary contributions of amateurs and professionals. Amateur participation has greatly increased the numbers of active investigators and the geographical spread of studies. This has been especially evident in studies that depend on large-scale ringing and recovery (see the recent migration atlases, such as Wernham et al. 2002). Moreover, unlike many aspects of science, old methods (such as observation and ringing) are still contributing greatly to the growth in understanding. The cheapness of these methods means that they can be used effectively by anyone with an interest in birds, however impecunious, and even the most ardent rarity-hunter has added usefully to our understanding of bird migration (Chapter 10).
Looking to the future, further breakthrough is likely once tracking devices have been miniaturised to such an extent that they can be used without ill-effect on smaller birds, when effective migration studies have spread to parts of the world where there has so far been little or no interest, and when better means are available for measuring the physiological condition of individual birds throughout their journeys. Intellectual breakthrough is also needed in several aspects, notably in the study of bird navigation.
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