Motus


Cayuga Bird Club Motus Project

Supporting Research on Migratory Birds

Last updated November 18, 2020 by Diane Morton.

Motus Wildlife Tracking, developed by Bird Studies Canada, is a method of using radio telemetry to follow the movements of birds and other wildlife. Individual birds or animals are equipped with a tiny radio transmitter (nanotag) that can be detected by specialized radio receivers at different geographic locations. This tracking method contributes to our understanding of migration routes, timing, and stopover habitats for different species, and does not require re-capture of tagged individuals. If a radio-tagged bird flies within a few miles of a receiver, its detection is logged. Data from the network of Motus receivers are transmitted to motus.org, allowing automated tracking of hundreds of individuals of many different species simultaneously. This information enables mapping of each tagged individual’s seasonal trajectory and is shared with migration researchers throughout the international Motus network.

The Motus network benefits from having receiving stations at many different geographical points, to allow for more detailed mapping of migration pathways. On October 19, 2019, Cayuga Bird Club installed the first Motus station in southern Central New York, at Myers Park in Lansing NY, filling a gap in the Motus array. (See a map of Motus receiving stations below).

Motus network map in update New York (as of Nov. 2020)

Cayuga Bird Club was helped with this project by Bryant Dossman, a graduate student with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who studies bird migration. The Town of Lansing generously provided a location for the radio tower at Myers Park, on the southeast shore of Cayuga Lake. You may see our Cayuga Bird Club radio tower above one of the pavilions the next time you visit the park.

Bryant Dossman adjusts Motus antennae

Bryant Dossman adjusts the antennae for our Motus tower at Myers Park

Myers Point Motus Detections

Just a few weeks after our Motus receiver was activated, an American Woodcock was detected on its southward migration. Since that date, the receiver has also detected a radio-tagged nightjar (probably a Common Nighthawk), Blackpoll Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, two Rusty Blackbirds and an American Pipit. Data for these detections was relayed back to the motus.org network for access by migration researchers. 

To explore detections by Cayuga Bird Club’s Motus station, go to
A list of detection dates and the corresponding tags and species are listed. To learn more about each detected bird, click on the link under “Tag deployment”.


Myers Point detections as of November 18, 2020.

American Woodcock

American Woodcock photo by Suan Yong

Clicking the link for the “PARC#147.9.7 M.33857” tag deployment, for example, you will learn about the American Woodcock our station detected in November 8, 2019. The bird was tagged with a transmitter on 4-27-2019, near Cleveland, Ohio, as part of a Powdermill Nature Reserve project. This tag was detected by 17 Motus receivers over the course of seven months.

Looking at the detections on “a map” (not “timeline”), you will see the locations of these detections, resulting in a map of the bird’s migratory movements:

Map of American Woodcock detections

The woodcock migrated north from Ohio to Ontario in April and May and then disappeared from the Motus detection array. There are some detections near Winnipeg MB in July. The bird then reappeared November 1 near a receiver north of Kingston, Ontario. Detection next occurred at Wolfe Island, Ontario on November 7, and by our Myers Point station the same evening. The final detection was at Mt Pisgah, North Carolina on November 9. 

A timeline showing the time of day for for the fall detections of this American Woodcock is shown below. Time (UTC) is shown across the X-axis, while dates are on the Y-axis. Different colors correspond to detections by different receiving stations.

Timeline of American Woodcock detections

Detection at our Myers Point Motus station (teal color) occurred at approximately 01:45 UTC, 11-8-19. Converting UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) to Eastern Standard Time (EST) by subtracting 5 hours, this woodcock passed by Myers Point at approximately 8:45 pm EST, 11-7-19This was just 3 hours after detections at Wolfe Island (red) and Amherst Island (olive brown) receivers, 150 miles north of us. This bird may have been flying at speeds of over 40 mph! The final detection (pink) was 33 hours later at 5:30 am EST 11-9-19, at Mt Pisgah, North Carolina, over 700 miles southwest of us. 

(Note: Timelines are accessible only to Motus account holders at motus.org, but maps and tables of Motus detections are accessible without an account).

2020 Motus Detections at Myers Point

Birds detected by Cayuga Bird Club’s Myers Point Motus receiver in 2020 are listed below with dates and locations of their original tag release date.
8-21-2020 Nightjar:

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk photo by Diane Morton

On August 21, 2020, at approximately 7:20 pm, a nightjar was detected by Cayuga Bird Club’s Motus receiving station at Myers Point. The bird was tagged as part of a study being done by the Norris Lab at the University of Guelph, Ontario, to study Common Nighthawk and Eastern Whip-poor-will movements with the hope of gaining insight into why the populations of both species have seriously declined in recent decades. While the focus of the study is on these birds’ movements near their breeding grounds, data on their migratory behavior can also be gleaned from this project.

This particular nightjar (exact species not noted at motus.org) was detected repeatedly during the summer at a site near Gravenhurst, Ontario, north of Toronto. The bird began its southward journey in August with detection west of Niagara Falls on August 17 and at the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory station on August 18, before being detected by our station at Myers Point on August 21st. The bird was subsequently detected in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and on September 7, in Vero Beach, Florida. Nightjars are long-distance migrants; it will be interesting to learn if this bird is detected at more distant locations in the Caribbean or South America.

A map of Motus detections of the southward journey of this nightjar is shown here, from Ontario (8-10-20) to Florida (9-6-20). (Very short duration detections, which are likely spurious, have been filtered out.) Note that it is unknown whether the bird flew over the water from Delaware to Florida or took an inland route.

Map of Common Nighthawk detections, filtered for noise

10-7-2020 Blackpoll Warbler:

Blackpoll Warbler, fall plumage

Blackpoll Warbler photo by Suan Yong
 
On October 7, 2020, at approximately 7:40 pm, our Cayuga Bird Club Motus receiver at Myers Point detected a Blackpoll Warbler on its southward migration. This bird had been radio-tagged two weeks earlier, on September 21st, at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory (BBBO) on the south shore of Lake Ontario. One of eighteen Blackpoll warblers tagged at BBBO this fall, this Blackpoll spent five days near the observatory before it departed to pass later by Myers Point. As of November 8, 2020, no additional detections further south have been reported.

Blackpoll Warblers are very long-distance migrants, flying up to 12,400 miles roundtrip each year between their nesting areas in northern Boreal forests to wintering grounds as far as the Amazon Basin of South America. While their spring migration is primarily overland, their fall migration can include a four-day trans-oceanic flight. 

Blackpolls are one of the fastest declining songbirds in North America. Further studies of their migration routes will help to identify important areas to protect for their successful conservation.

Here is more from one recent study using geolocators to follow Blackpoll migration: 

10-25-2020 White-throated Sparrow:

White-Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow photo by Phil McNeil

A White-throated Sparrow was detected at Myers Point on October 24, 2020 at approximately 10:30 pm EDT (October 25 03:30 UTC). White-throated sparrows, along with a number of other species, were tagged at Mary’s Point, New Brunswick for studies of migration and stopover ecology of migratory songbirds and bats. This White throated Sparrow headed west, and was detected at Upper and Lower Lakes WMA, New York, before it headed south toward Cayuga Lake. Detections further south have not yet been reported.

10-2020 Rusty Blackbirds:

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird photo by Suan Yong

Two Rusty Blackbirds were detected within a few days of one another at Myers Point. The first Rusty Blackbird was detected on October 25, 2020 at approximately 2:20 am EDT.  It had been tagged at the Observatoire d'oiseaux de Tadoussac (https://www.explosnature.ca/oot/) on September 13 for a study of fall migrations routes and migratory connectivity of Rusty Blackbirds. After its detection at Myers Point, the bird was detected at Hickory Ridge, Maryland on November 12.
A second Rusty Blackbird, also tagged at Tadoussac, was detected on October 31, 2020 at approximately 10:30 am EDT. The blackbird had daily detections at Tadoussac from October 2 to October 19, 2020 before the bird headed south past Anse de Persil (October 20), McGill Bird Observatory (October 21), and our Myers Point receiver on October 31. The most recent detection for this Red Knot was at Lamb’s Knoll, Maryland on November 7, 2020.






11-3-2020 American Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit at Myers Park, photo by Suan Yong

At approximately 11:00 am on November 3, 2020, our Motus station detected an American Pipits, tagged at L’Observatoire d’Oiseaux de Tadoussac, QC in September. This bird was also detected by a station at Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area, northwest of Syracuse, on October 30, 2020.


American Pipits are medium distance migrants, breeding in northern or mountainous regions of North America, and wintering in the southern United States, Mexico, or Central America. American Pipits are relatively common birds, without a high conservation concern due to their abundance. However, their population has fallen by as much as 30% since 1970. Changes to their arctic and alpine breeding habitats brought about by climate change are a concern for this species.



We encourage you to explore Cayuga Bird Club’s motus detections at https://motus.org/data/receiverDeploymentDetections?id=5852. If you have questions about this project, contact Diane Morton at DianeGMorton at gmail dot com.