The Land Between Charity is helping to install two receiver towers to help track bird (and animal) movements. This will support migration research and help bird conservation initiatives.
In these days of technological progress and advances, we at The Land Between look to embrace new and exciting ways to fuel conservation efforts in all aspects of our fieldwork. Be it using apps to input data instead of writing them on paper or using live video feeds to showcase the happenings within our office instead of daily newsletters, we acknowledge that certain technologies help to create a more connected and conserved world. As ambassadors to conservation science and a world with less human impacts, we strive to create a more connected and conserved world by staying current with these advances. As such, I would like to take this moment to tell you about an exciting project we are working on which is a relatively new expansion into the world of animal tracking; Motus towers.
Motus, coming from the Latin word for “motion”, is the name of a wildlife tracking system which uses a receiver and antenna affixed atop a tower to track the movement of animals tagged with special radio transmitters. This system allows researchers to consistently track animals (mostly birds), without the need to handle them on the ground after their initial capture. This program, run through Birds Canada, is one of the largest migratory animal tracking networks in the world. The network encourages collaboration between scientists and with conservation groups.
The Motus transmitter tags are extremely small. At around 0.2 grams, the smallest tags can be attached to dragonflies. In order to deploy the tags, the animal must be captured to take initial information (such as age, sex, weight, etc.) and affix the tag.
Most tags are affixed via harnesses, but some are glued onto the skin or inserted into the animal via a small incision. Each method of affixion has its pros and cons in terms of animal care, but the more permanent options provide the longest tag retention and as such, the longest data transmission. All tags are composed of a transmitter and antenna, with the antenna extending freely off the rear of the animal to ensure no impact on daily life (see picture to right).
The tower itself is composed of a mast with one to three antennae, all of which face different directions and have a detection range of 10-20 kilometers based on antenna. These antennae pick up the transmitter signal from any transmitter that enters the 10-20 kilometer range, as long as the animal crosses the direction the antenna is facing. The information from the transmitter is then relayed into a receiver on the tower, which stores the information until it is downloaded. These towers can be outfitted with a solar panel and battery, or attached to a permanent power source to ensure constant power, and some can even have internet or cell tower capability to remotely send the data obtained instead of needing a technician to go to the tower to download the data every few months.
Since it began in 2012, Motus has extended to 4 of the 7 continents, with 917 receiver stations and 323 projects using Motus towers (https://motus.org/data/numbers). In Ontario there are more than 50 receiver stations supporting several different projects, but there is a notable gap of receivers within Central Ontario. We are excited to announce that The Land Between is now working to extend the Motus tower network by placing two new towers within our bioregion!
These towers will help support existing projects by tracking the movement of birds-at-risk such as the Common Nighthawk, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Loggerhead Shrike, and the Grassland Sparrow. While we will not be tagging these birds ourselves or conducting our own project (perhaps in the future!), our towers will receive signals from birds tagged from other projects. Think of our towers as supplemental data in areas these projects could not afford to place towers. Because of the cost of towers (upwards of $10,000 if fully outfitted with the best gadgets) we will strategically place two towers in areas where there are gaps in coverage. This will benefit all projects whose tagged animals will cross near our towers, and therefore help inform migration research. As you can see from this picture (where yellow dots represent receiver locations), there is a significant gap in receivers in our bioregion (red outline). We are hoping that by placing our two towers, we will help fill in that gap and that others will follow suit.
Due to the high precision of these towers, as well as the ability to track animals in their area 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with little to no human disturbance, the Land Between sees Motus towers as a positive step towards a non-invasive, animal tracking world.
This majority of funding for this project is being supported by the Community Nominated Priority Places Project of Environment Canada and Climate Change, and by generous donors. Not all costs are fully covered- To succeed we need your help! If you can help us, in any amount, we would be very grateful! Visit www.thelandbetween.ca to donate.
Written by Xavier Tuson and Emma Halupka
All images taken from motus.org