Not Free, Bird: Russian Researchers Were Bankrupted by Their Tagged Eagles’ Roaming Charges

ALI1992/iStock via Getty Images
ALI1992/iStock via Getty Images / ALI1992/iStock via Getty Images

Steppe eagles have 7-foot wingspans, mainly eat carrion, and never read the fine print on their cell phone plans.

Russian researchers collectively face-palmed when they realized that the trackers on their tagged eagles had been sending text messages from regions outside of their cell service coverage, resulting in exorbitant roaming charges.

As Gizmodo reports, the trackers automatically sent texts with location updates back to the researchers at the Russian Raptors Research and Conservation Network so they could chart the eagles’ summer migration patterns. If you’re thinking it was a little presumptuous for the researchers to assume the birds would stay within the invisible boundaries of good cell reception, you’re right—but they didn’t assume that. In fact, they expected just the opposite: that the birds would spend the summer in a region of Kazakhstan with no cell reception at all. That way, the researchers would receive the backed-up texts whenever the birds flew back through regions with cell service.

To their credit, the plan mostly worked. The majority of the birds did stay in Kazakhstan and transmitted their unsent messages while flying over parts of Russia and Kazakhstan where the researchers had cell coverage. Unfortunately, a few aberrant adventurers soared all the way to Iran, where there was good reception—just not on the researchers’ cell plan. For months, the trackers sent four messages per day per bird, at about $0.77 each.

We don’t know precisely why these specific eagles ventured so much farther than the norm, but it could have to do with the diminishing of their normal breeding range in Russia and Kazakhstan, where more and more land is being converted to farmland.

In a post on the Russian social media platform VK, the researchers wrote that their budget was “completely exhausted,” and launched a fundraising campaign to raise money for the project.

“They really left us penniless,” researcher Igor Karyakin told “We had to take out a loan to feed the tracker device.”

Luckily, donations from avian aficionados should last the birds at least through the rest of the year.

Interested in learning more about the wonders of our fine-feathered friends? Here are 44 fun facts about birds.

[h/t Gizmodo]