Installing Atlanta’s first MOTUS tower
It has been two years in the making, but it has finally happened! This past weekend, fellow Bird Team member Taylor and I installed a Motus tower on grounds at Zoo Atlanta. “What is that?” you may be asking yourself. Well, I’ll tell you. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is an international research network that uses radio telemetry to track the movement and behavior of small flying animals including bats, small insects, and, in our case, birds. Basically, it is a set of antennae that uses radio telemetry to track any animal that has been tagged with a special radio transmitter.
Why is this important? Nearly one third of North America’s bird species are considered at risk of extinction if no significant conservation action is taken! One of the biggest limitations to these actions are understanding what resources a bird is using over its lifetime. Previously, researchers would have to catch a bird in one location, band it with a small metal band stamped with a unique number, and then hope to recapture the same bird again in a different location in order to track its movement. Motus overcomes this challenge by using special radio transmitters, called nano-tags, that can be attached to the bird’s body. These tags are extremely lightweight and are about the size of a grain of rice. Now as a bird travels throughout or between habitats, its transmitter will ‘ping’ off of every tower that is nearby. This data is sent to a central database which is then available to researchers.
There are almost 1,000 Motus stations spread over four continents, including five along the Georgia coast. Our tower is the first in Atlanta, and one in only a handful of zoos! We hope that this tower will provide greater insight into the birds that share our home!
Lead Keeper, Birds