Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Elena Shnayder/Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network

Migrating eagles rack up huge data roaming charges

Thirteen eagles migrating south from Russia and Kazakhstan racked up hundreds of dollars of data roaming charges this summer when their tracking tags attempted to send SMS messages from out of range.

The eagles’ tags (pictured) were designed to send four SMS messages with GPS data each day from wherever they were, so researchers could map their migration routes. But when a few of the eagles took routes through remote areas of Kazakhstan with no mobile towers during their summer migration, the messages piled up and then all sent at once as the birds arrived in Iran in October. Message rates in Iran are more than three times what they are in Kazakhstan, causing the birds to blow through the entire year’s budget.

Scientists at the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network began to use crowdfunding platforms to pay off the bill, and were able to raise more than $1000—enough to pay the fees and put some toward future research. Several telephone companies reached out to offer free or reduced-price service for the eagles, and in the end the researchers chose the option with the best coverage in remote areas: a special, lower cost data plan from the Russian telephone company Megafon that will let the birds migrate for cheap.