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New Motus Station Will Contribute to Migration Research

November 9, 2020

A Revolution in Migration Research – Right in Our Backyard…

A diagram of nanotagged birds in flight. (illustration © Motus & Birds Canada)The Motus Wildlife Tracking System (motus.org) is revolutionizing the study of winged migration, and it’s coming to the Monadnock Region! Motus (Latin for “motion”) is comprised of small, lightweight radio transmitters (“nanotags”) that are affixed to shorebirds, songbirds, small owls, bats, and even large butterflies and dragonflies, along with a network of receiving stations that detect the radio signals whenever a tagged animal flies within range.

Though it has only existed since 2012, Motus has already revealed intimate, never-before-seen details about migration routes, timing, flight speed, stopover behavior, the locations of critical migratory and overwintering habitat, and more. From 2014 through 2017, for instance, Motus collaborators discovered that nearly the entire population of the federally-threatened Red Knot (a shorebird species) passes over Pennsylvania en route to their Arctic breeding grounds each spring, and returns south via an entirely different route in the fall. Another project focused on Gray-cheeked Thrushes documented a remarkable 2,200-mile non-stop flight from Colombia to Ontario in just 46 hours. With 340 projects encompassing 230 different species (and counting), the conservation potential of Motus is enormous.

New England Motus

Initial efforts focused largely on Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes coastlines, but the newly-launched New England Motus project aims to establish a series of east-west receiving station “fencelines” that will detect tagged wildlife as they migrate north-south through interior New England. The goal is to establish 50 receiving stations across Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.

In exciting news, the very first of these New England Motus stations was installed in early November on the Harris Center’s Granite Lake Headwaters property in Stoddard! This station is sustainably powered by a solar panel, and will transmit data via cell phone signal. Starting next spring, you’ll be able to see which tagged species passed by our station — and when — at motus.org. We’re also exploring ways to share these findings with the community via our website and school programming. Stay tuned!

Project Partners

Partners on the New England project include New Hampshire Fish & Game, New Hampshire Audubon, Mass Audubon, Maine Audubon, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Willistown Conservation Trust. It is truly a team effort!

Thank You

The Harris Center’s involvement in this cutting-edge research collaborative was made possible with support from our 50th Anniversary Fund. Thank you to everyone who donated to this fund, which will spur innovative conservation research programming well into our next half-century.