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 and habitat 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 — tiny radio tags and a network of receivers. Motus radio tags are light-weight transmitters that send out pulses every few seconds that are detected by Motus receivers. 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. 

Researchers attach Motus tags to birds, bats, or large 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.

Cerulean warbler with Motus tag on its back.
Cerulean warbler fitted with a Motus radio tag on fall migration in Costa Rica.
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Motus in Missouri

The Motus network of receivers is growing rapidly. As of 2018, only a few dozen receivers had been placed in the Midwest. Now there are about 100 stations in eight Midwestern states and growing! The Midwest serves as a major bird migration route known as the Mississippi Flyway. To adequately detect tagged birds moving through the region, many more receiver stations are still needed. 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.  

Two lines of Motus receivers are being placed in Missouri, one across northern Missouri and one across our Ozarks. There are currently 18 active stations in the state, with more on the way. These two lines are being placed in east-west arrays, so any Motus-tagged animal flying into or out of Missouri on long-distance migrations will be detected!

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