Developing electronic tags and wildlife tracking technology

The development of tracking technology is providing exciting new opportunities to reveal the movements and migrations of birds and other animals.

David Douglas (Conservation Scientist) heads up a team looking into the effects of a wind farm on Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria, Sutherland, Scotland


Technologies available within electronic tags can now help us understand more about the day-to-day behaviour of animals. 
As well making use of existing commercially-available technology, the RSPB is developing and deploying bespoke devices to help us answer priority conservation science questions. With so much technological evolution we are unable to stand still and must invest to meet the demands of a diverse research environment.


  • To develop an array of electronic tags in-house.
  • To deploy these and commercially available tags to answer key conservation research questions.

Key Dates

  • Video/GPS combined tags were tested and deployed in 2013. These were finished in 2014 and used on gannets, frigate birds and gulls.
  • 2015 to present GPS tags which communicate locally have been gathering data on species such as turtle dove, stone-curlew and puffins.
  • GPS tags which transmit location data over mobile phone (GSM) networks developed. These were first deployed on cattle on RSPB reserves in 2013.
  • 2014 completion of a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag logger to be used to monitor birds at nests/feeders.


  • Prototype in-house satellite (phone) tags have been developed/lab tested and will get their first field test on vultures in Nepal during 2017.
  •  Preliminary work has begun using radio dongles to test the viability of the remote listening device.


Planned Work

  • Build a tag utilising a satellite phone network thus avoiding the large costs associated with currently available tags.
  • To work with a developer to produce a lighter more economical 'Mataki' remote download GPS tag for deployment in 2017.
  •  Design a low cost 'listening device' to detect and record the presence of any tracking device as often the telemetry devices are dropped from the animal.
  • Evaluate optimum conditions for the mobile phone GSM equivalent and test with battery and solar options on avian studies.
  • Utilise the RFID loggers for the first time on the EU LIFE godwit project.

Fly with a gannet

Footage from a GPS/video tag attached to a Grassholm island gannet as part of a project by the RSPB and University of Exeter.

This footage was obtained from a GPS/video tag attached to a Grassholm island gannet as part of a seabird monitoring project being undertaken jointly by the RSPB and University of Exeter.

Fly with a gannet - video screenshot


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Guy Anderson

UK Migrants Programme Manager, Nature Recovery
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: Wales Country: Nepal Country: Senegal Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Heathland Habitat: Marine and intertidal Habitat: Upland Habitat: Urban and suburban Habitat: Wetland Habitat: Woodland Species: Black-tailed godwit Species: Hawfinch Species: Hen harrier Species: Puffin Species: Turtle dove Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research