loWA Geolocator Project

Louisiana Waterthrush (LOWA) are in decline in our region. What does this tell us about our forests?

Photo Credit © Tim Jeffers

Louisiana Waterthrush (LOWA) are Neotropical songbirds that have been identified as a "species in decline" by the regional authority on bird population health, Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture. However, LOWA populations are on the rise within our specific area, making the Tennessee River Gorge an area of regional importance. LOWA serve as stream health indicators because they feed on macroinvertebrates such as mayfly larvae which are only found in healthy water sources.  

At the Trust, we want to understand what pressures are causing this unique bird to decline. In the summer of 2016, we deployed geolocator data loggers on sixteen LOWAs in order to learn more about their full life cycle. These geolocators map the LOWA's migration routes and wintering grounds by measuring ambient light levels in association with time of day. This data can only be retrieved directly from the geolocators; thus, we must recapture the geolocator-carrying LOWA upon their return to the Gorge in the summer of 2017. Since LOWA often return to the same summer breeding grounds year after year, we are able to successfully and safely recapture LOWA as they return from their southern wintering grounds. 

We have successfully recovered five of the geolocators, each of which contains exceptionally unique data on their migration routes and specific winter locations. The data revealed that the LOWA migrated to various locations within Guatemala and Southern Mexico, a round trip of over 3,000 miles! This project has been one of the first successful attempts at tracking the migration routes of the Louisiana Waterthrush. With this research project we have opened the door to better addressing threats to LOWA and their habitat – whether they be local or global!

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