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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

On a Wing and a Prayer

Every year, our backyards, our parks, and, yes, our zoos are the setting for one of North America's most spectacular wildlife pageants - the annual journey of the migratory birds.  Millions of songbirds make the perilous trek from North America down to Central and South America and back, some of them flying clear over the Caribbean.  The thought of such small, seemingly frail creatures journeying for thousands of miles seems so hard to imagine.

Birds on their migratory journeys are extremely vulnerable.  They are reliant upon a network of food sources and rest sites along their route.  If they lose those resources, their chances of survival decrease.  Conversely, if we want to help protect migratory birds, we need to protect those rest sites and those feeding grounds.  What this means, of course, is that to protect migratory birds, we need to know where those locations are.  We need to really understand where they are going.  But how do you track an animal that weighs a few ounces as it travels for thousands of miles across several countries?

One answer is Motus.

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a program where birds, bats, and even large insects are fitted with tiny GPS trackers then sent on their way.  As the bird, bat, or bug continues on its journey, it passes a series of GPS towers scattered across the landscape.  If the bird (for convenience, let's just stick with birds) passes within range of one of those towers, the identity of the bird will be picked up and recorded, uploaded on a database.  The data obtained from these towers can be used to help determine what birds are traveling where.  We can then determine what the priority locations are for protecting bird habitat.

It's easy for zoos, nature clubs, and other organizations to get involved.  They can raise funds to erect a Motus tower on their grounds or in another prominent location.  The more towers there are, the more of the country is covered with towers.  Already several zoos are participating in the program, with more joining.  They can also volunteer to assist scientists in trapping and banding animals.  Every banded animal generates valuable data every time it passes a Motus station.

Learn more about Motus and how you can get involved with it here.

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