Can Talons Be Used for Texting?

A steppe eagle with an SMS tracker attached. (I. Karyakin/Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network)

Text Messages Sent by Roaming Eagles Bankrupt Scientific Study

by Jason Daley/

When a team of Russian researchers set out to track endangered steppe eagles using a device that sends the birds’ locations via text messages, they knew they would occasionally lose track of the birds when they flew into regions with little or no cellular coverage. Going off the grid isn’t a huge deal; usually when that happens, the messages are sent once the eagles flew back into range, which works great as long as they stay in network. With a solid cellular plan, the study should have been cost effective.

But what they didn’t plan for was Min, a globetrotting steppe eagle whose taste for adventure turned into a big international texting habit.

The Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network team had equipped 13 steppe eagles with SMS text-based tracking devices. Four times a day, the devices would send the coordinates of the eagles so researchers could figure out where they spend their time. However, the birds often spend most of the summer breeding season in regions with little or no cellular coverage, mostly in Kazakhstan. Once they move on, the device sends dozens—or sometimes hundreds—of backlogged tracking messages all at once.

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