A Zugunruhe Data Collection System Using Passive Infrared Sensors Academic Article uri icon


  • When engineers and biologists work together, there is a lot to learn on both sides. For instance, our work introduced us to zugunruhe, which is a German word that means unrest. It is used in the context of migratory birds, as they become restless at night, inside their cages, during their migratory period. When does zugunruhe start? It usually starts when the weather becomes cold and the days shorter, but it varies for different bird species. Moreover, global warming has caused changes in zungunruhes timing, which made it even harder to predict. Another question is about genetics: is there a specific gene or a group of genes that cause birds to migrate? To help scientists answer questions related to zugunruhe and the genes underlying migratory behavior, this paper presents the design and implementation of a zugunruhe data collection system to study the Swainsons thrush, a migratory songbird that breeds in North America. Our goal is to share how custom-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices and existing technologies were used in this project, such as passive infrared motion sensors, telecom cables, custom printed circuit boards (PCB) and a data acquisition system using LabView software. All these were combined to monitor bird movements. We also discuss how the learned lessons from our first winter of data collection, in which we monitored 30 bird cages, led to improvements to scale the system to support the monitoring of 60 birds in the second year. Samples of the collected data are presented to show that the system works, which was validated by comparing our data with the images obtained using an infrared camera. Some of the challenges on maintaining the system are also discussed. Moreover, this paper provides an example of an interdisciplinary, applied research project that is still on-going, and it was created by a group of undergraduate students. We hope it can inspire other researchers and undergraduate students to get involved in interdisciplinary research.

published proceedings

  • PURSUE: Undergraduate Research Journal

author list (cited authors)

  • Terry, R., Ramirez, L. E., Carrera, C., Kimmitt, A., Delmore, K., & Goulart, A.

complete list of authors

  • Terry, Ryan||Ramirez, Luis E||Carrera, Carol||Kimmitt, Abigail||Delmore, Kira||Goulart, Ana

publication date

  • January 1, 2021 11:11 AM