Tracking Birds with Motus

MDC is now part of a new wildlife tracking program called Motus.

By tracking bird movement, researchers find out where birds go during migration and how long they stay in those areas. This information helps guide conservation management decisions. 

What is the Motus Wildlife Tracking System?

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is an international network of stations tracking the movements of individual birds, bats, and large insects. The program was started in 2014 by Bird Studies Canada in partnership with Acadia University. 

Motus is based on two components — nanotags and a network of receivers. Nanotags are light-weight transmitters that send out radio signals. Receivers are mini-computers hooked to antennas that detect radio signals. Everywhere in the world, Motus tags and receivers are set to the same radio frequency. 

Black-throated blue warbler fitted with a nanotag in the center of its back.
Black-throated blue warbler fitted with a nanotag transmitter.
Bethany Thurber

Researchers attach the nanotags to birds, bats, or insects. If a Motus-tagged animal passes within range of any Motus receiver along its migration route, its unique signal is detected and stored. 

Scientists across the globe are placing Motus receivers in their regions and sharing the information they collect. By working together with Motus, researchers can learn more than they would working alone.  

Motus in Missouri

Only a few dozen receivers have been placed in the Midwest so far. Most are along the coast of Lake Superior and east of Missouri. The Midwest serves as a major bird migration route known as the Mississippi Flyway. Yet the region is currently a “black hole” for Motus detection. This is why Missouri is working to place receivers across the state.

Missouri has high-quality habitat for birds and bats, including breeding grounds for many migrant bird species as well as colony sites and winter caves for bats. These qualities make our state an important location for Motus tracking to be taking place.  

A plan is underway to place a line of Motus receivers all the way across our Missouri Ozarks. That way, any Motus-tagged animal flying into or out of Missouri will be detected!

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