Bird tracking

The Missouri Department of Conservation has joined an international network that tracks the large-scale movements of birds, bats and large insects. As part of the research, a Black-throated Blue Warbler is fitted with a nanotag transmitter.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has joined an international network that tracks the large-scale movements of birds, bats and large insects.

Sarah Kendrick, state ornithologist, said in the last year the department became a part of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. The system allows researchers across the globe to gather and share information on migrating birds.

Motus began in 2014 by Bird Studies Canada with other Canadian partners but has since spread to 31 countries across four continents.

The tracking system works by using nanotags and a collaborative system of receiver stations. Researchers fit birds with lightweight nanotags, or tiny radio transmitters, that send out radio signals coded to be detected on the Motus frequency.

There currently are 996 active Motus stations in the world that all listen on the same frequency.

When the Motus-tagged animals fly within range of any Motus receiver along a migration route, the signal is detected and stored or uploaded to the Motus website via an internet connection or the cellular network.

“Motus is revolutionary because of its collaborative nature,” Kendrick said. “We can learn so much more about long-distance migration together than separately. Using Motus, researchers are learning more and more about migration timing, routes, duration and stop-over sites — all of which help us target conservation efforts for these species along those pathways.”

Missouri has installed 16 active Motus receivers. These receivers make up two latitudinal “digital fences” in the northern and southern portions of the state that contain diverse habitat and breeding grounds for many bird and bat species.

During the 2020 fall migration, Motus receivers in Missouri detected 19 Motus-tagged birds, most of which originally were tagged by researchers in Montana.

Since the installation of the Motus receivers, Missouri had three detections of Motus-tagged birds during spring migration and 18 detections during fall migration.

Species detected include Swainson’s Thrushes, Gray Catbird and Common Nighthawk tagged in Montana and British Columbia along with a Mourning Warbler tagged in Colombia.

The Common Nighthawk was tagged in Montana on Aug. 27 and was detected in southwest Missouri on Sept. 24 and 25.

“These detections show how Motus is only as strong as the investment made in it,” Kendrick said. “Filling gaps in coverage almost always leads to new and inspiring findings.”

In addition, a multi-state U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant was submitted in June with the Missouri Department of Conservation as the lead entity to purchase and place a further 59 new Motus receivers.

There will be 48 placed in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio along with 11 in Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia on stop-over sites and wintering grounds of many migratory species.

“One-third of the birds that breed in Missouri leave the U.S. in the non-breeding season for up to eight months of the year,” Kendrick said. “We cannot ignore the threats that these species face beyond our borders, especially when many populations are declining precipitously. Tracking will help bird conservation partners further pinpoint conservation efforts where they’re needed most.”

To learn more about Missouri’s role in the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Zbn.

Margaret Slayton can be reached at margaret.slayton@newspressnow.com.