A growing network of radio stations provides important data on the migration of small animals

Iowa joined other Midwestern states and researchers from Canada and Central and South America to create a network of radio receiving stations to learn about long-distance migration patterns birds, bats and insects.

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System, motus being the Latin word for movement, was launched in 2013 by Birds Canada near Toronto. Motus is a coordinated automated radiotelemetry station system used to track the long-range movements of small animals.

Automated antenna arrays connected to radio receivers are installed throughout the Western Hemisphere and birds, bats and insects are captured and trapped, then fitted with small tags that emit a radio signal every few seconds. When the marked animal passes close to a receiving station, the latter registers the mark and identifies the animal to which it was attached. Thus, multiple detections over time can constitute a migration map for a marked individual.

Iowa is an important flyway for migratory birds and as the state works to fill the fence of its east-west radio receiving station, more birds will be detected, providing more information on the migration patterns that can inform conservation decision-making.

“We are trying to increase the number of stations in Iowa and the Midwest for the benefit of current and future research,” said Anna Buckardt Thomas, avian ecologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Iowa began installing stations in August 2021 under a Fish and Wildlife Service grant that funded equipment for 40 stations in the Midwest and a dozen in Central and South America. The Iowa stations are located in areas that met elevation requirements and were placed on buildings owned or leased by the Iowa DNR, including at Lewis and Clark State Park, and near cities from Early, Boone, Swisher, McGregor, Wapello and Burlington.

“We plan to install another station this fall, and once our partners have their stations installed, we could have a dozen in operation in Iowa, collect data, and then we could start asking our own questions, do our own tagging research while still contributing to the larger hemisphere-wide migration effort,” she said.

The stations cost around $4,000 each, are designed to fit the site, and are expected to last 10 years. The requirements for hosting a site are its location relative to other stations, elevation in the surrounding area, and an internet connection.

The stations are automated and have four antennas tuned to receive two radio frequencies. The larger antennas have a detection range of 15 kilometers, the smaller antennas can cover 10 kilometers. Once the system is installed, it requires little maintenance and is always on and ready to detect nearby beacons.

So far, Iowa has recorded 20 detections, including eight different bird species and at least one detection by six of the seven stations. The station near the town of Early, on the Blackhawk Wildlife Unit building, had three detections – a marked lesser sandpiper on its wintering grounds in Colombia; a marked golden-winged warbler on its wintering grounds in Costa Rica; and a marked American Kestrel on Minnesota breeding grounds.

The little knight was branded in Colombia on April 19. It was detected in southern Costa Rica on May 4 traveling around 78 kilometers per hour (48.5 miles per hour), then was detected in Kansas on May 7, then again on May 7 at at Missouri River Wildlife Unit for two minutes, then to the Blackhawk Wildlife Unit for five seconds.

“All of this information is fed into a single database so that we can detect animals that have been tagged by any other researcher in the database, and they will be able to detect any tags that we put out. the future. We are adding an interesting and vital piece to the history of these birds,” Buckardt Thomas said.

Project information is publicly available and can be viewed at motus.org. The stations automatically update the database so that the data on the website is always up to date.

Although Iowa hasn’t started tagging animals yet, that’s the next step once the stations are up and running. Bird marking is regulated by the United States Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory which outlines specific requirements and limitations associated with bird marking and permits required permits to avoid negatively impacting bird life. bird.

“We have a much better chance of detecting a tagged bird than recapturing a bird that is only banded,” she said. “We’ll learn a lot about the birds’ flyways and when they move through the area, and the Iowa habitats they use.”

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