This tiny yellow warbler had tallied an impressive 30,000 km of travel before becoming the subject of a winning photograph taken by SFU PhD student Simon Valdez-Juarez.

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Researcher’s travelling bird photo nets national recognition

October 24, 2016
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A photograph capturing a tiny yellow warbler in flight—after it had tallied an impressive 30,000 km of travel—has landed SFU PhD student Simon Valdez-Juarez third prize in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Science Exposed photo contest.

Valdez-Juarez was among 20 finalists in the competition. Three were selected as the winners by a jury of experts with backgrounds in research and culture. The winning and finalist images are featured on the NSERC contest page rotation here.

“This yellow warbler is quite the long distance flyer, the coloured band seen on his leg is a testament to the species' migratory endurance,” says Valdez-Juarez, who banded the bird in January 2012.

At the time the bird was wintering on a tree dividing two chili-pepper fields in Jalisco, Mexico, while hunting for spiders and caterpillars, as seen in his winning photo.

SFU PhD student Simon Valdez-Juarez

In April that year the warbler migrated north and Valdez-Juarez lost track of him, but the next year the bird returned to the same tree. “Feather isotope analysis revealed that his summer breeding grounds were in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories, Canada,” says Valdez-Juarez, who took the photo in January 2015.

“In the time between the banding and this picture, this tiny, nine-gram bird migrated from Canada to Mexico four times, an impressive 30,000 km of travel. “

Valdez-Juarez, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico, says this yellow warbler is one of 200 he is studying with David Green of SFU’s Centre for Wildlife Ecology to understand how agriculture in Mexico affects the ecology, condition and survival of migratory songbirds known to winter there.