Track Santa through Norfolk with the University of East Anglia and America’s Norad

PUBLISHED: 19:28 14 December 2017

Tracking Santa. Picture: Thinkstock

Tracking Santa. Picture: Thinkstock


It’s become a Christmas tradition to track Santa and his sleigh as he flies around the world – and a Norfolk expert in migrating birds and is adding festive sparkle to his science

As Santa circles the globe this Christmas he is not the only one making an epic journey.

And now an expert in animal migrations is trying to track him.

Santa’s journey is being monitored in the annual Children’s Christmas Lectures at the University of East Anglia, on Saturday, December 16.

Animal Tracks and Treasure Maps features Dr Simon Butler talking about birds, mammals (and Santa), and Prof Claire Jowitt on pirate “mythsploding.” Plank-walking pirates with peg-legs, parrots on their shoulders and pieces of eight are examined in her fun talk which journeys back to Tudor times.

Some of the big Christmas questions are addressed in the double-bill lecture, including what tools could be used to track Santa around the globe and what might happen if he bumps into some pirates along the way.

The UEA children’s lectures have become a festive tradition with experts addressing the Disney film Frozen and scientific research in the Antarctic, volanoes and Victorian rubbish Christmases, and sleigh bells and superheroes in previous years.

This year Simon, of the UEA school of biological sciences, assesses the value of everything from binoculars and notebooks to smart phones and satellites for tracking wildlife (and flying reindeer.) And as he reveals some of the secrets of animal migration as he explores how it might be possible to follow Father Christmas’s epic journey.

“The techniques I’ll talk about can be used to track animals locally, eg to find out where they feed and breed, and to track them across annual migrations of thousands of kilometres,” said Simon. So how might he follow Santa’s inter-continental flights? “Ahh, we’ll be exploring this throughout the lecture,” he said.

Modern tracking methods are revealing more and more about how wildlife moves around the world, and as the UEA lectures sort migration (and pirate) fact from fiction, for one night a year, American military surveillance also joins the fun.

Santa and his reindeer are tracked, chimney by chimney, through cities, counties, countries and continents by the surveillance experts of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), as they dash around the world on Christmas Eve.

For more than 60 years Norad has been sharing this magical information with children, first by telephone, and now online too.

The tradition started when, 62 years ago, an American department store asked children to call a special hotline to talk to Santa. A misprint meant they ended up talking to the director of operations for the US aerospace defence. Unfazed the top military man asked staff to check radar data for signs that Santa was on his way, and a tradition was born.

The 2017 Children’s Christmas Lectures, Animal Tracks and Treasure Maps, from 10am-12 noon on Saturday, December 16, are sold out, but will be live-streamed from the University of East Anglia at and will then go on up on the university’s YouTube channel.

On Christmas Eve you can track Santa via

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