BirdsCaribbean seeks support for Motus, a high-tech bird tracking program

Caribbean birds are in danger, facing a whole range of threats. Mangroves and forests are cleared for tourism developments and housing schemes. Our rivers, wetlands, sea and land are becoming increasingly polluted by agricultural chemicals, mining operations, and waste of all kinds, especially plastics. Invasive species threaten the existence of native and endemic birds. And over it all, climate change has a thousand different manifestations (in particular, extreme weather) that affect our birds. And I am talking about those who are resident all year round, and those who migrate back and forth each year across the Americas and into the Caribbean.

Despite everything, however, there are tremendous, ongoing efforts to protect our birds. The regional non-governmental organization BirdsCaribbean – with partners across the insular Caribbean – is at the forefront. Its passion is bird conservation: advocating for their conservation, raising awareness, and promoting sound science.

It is also about staying on the cutting edge of technology. This is where Motus comes in. Motus simply means movement. While the concept may be simple, the technology – automated radio telemetry, tracking the movements of birds as they move across the region – is delicate, complex and fascinating. Just as migration itself is.

This is a trailblazing program for the Caribbean that will surely make a difference in our understanding of how our birds move around. And once this data is collected, it will help the organization to protect the most vulnerable spaces where they migrate, rest, and feed in the Caribbean. This will benefit the ecological health of the region in general, besides birds.

BirdsCaribbean is seeking help from across the islands to join up the dots and see the bird connections across the Americas. The impact of this program, once established, will be far-reaching. Please share with any individual or organization that may be willing to support.

Yellow dots represent the active Motus receiver stations. The white box outlines the insular Caribbean. A few Motus stations that were put up in several islands have been damaged by storms and hurricanes, and need repair.

Read more here from BirdsCaribbean:

The Caribbean Motus Collaboration—Help us Develop this Exciting New Program!

BirdsCaribbean is very excited to announce that we are launching a new bird monitoring initiative — the Caribbean Motus Collaboration. And we need your help and involvement! Read on to learn more about this program and how you can help.

What is Motus?

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a powerful collaborative research network developed by Birds Canada. Named after the Latin word for movement, Motus uses automated radio telemetry arrays to study the movements and behavior of flying animals (birds, bats, and insects) that are nano-tagged and tracked by Motus receivers.

Motus’ main objective is to enable conservation and ecological research by tracking the movement of animals. The system consists of hundreds of receiver stations and thousands of deployed nanotags on 236+ species, mostly birds. Data from this network have already expanded our understanding of bird movements, including pinpointing migration routes and key stopover sites, as well as movements, habitat use, and behavior during breeding and non-breeding seasons. We are only just beginning to tap into the enormous potential of this new technology and growing network of partnerships and data sharing for conservation.

Motus technology is also a valuable educational tool that can advance conservation education both in and out of the classroom. Birds Canada and the Northeast Motus Collaboration have developed a curriculum that combines interactive classroom activities with Motus tracking tools that can be used to teach local children about birds, migration, and conservation.

Expanding the Motus Network in the Caribbean

Motus is widely established in Canada and the US, and beginning to spread throughout Central and South America; however, there are currently no active receiver stations in the Caribbean. The more Motus stations we can put up, the more we can increase our understanding of where tagged birds are moving. In addition, many species of conservation concern that live in or migrate through/ to the region have not yet been tagged. We want to fill this critical geographical gap.

The Caribbean Motus Collaboration (CMC) is developing a multi-pronged strategy to expand the Motus network by installing and maintaining receiver stations in strategic locations throughout the islands, deploying nanotags on priority bird species, and implementing a specially adapted Caribbean educational curriculum.

This lovely bird looks just as if someone had taken a paintbrush and a very bright pallette. The Painted Bunting is a declining songbird that winters in Florida, Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, and Central America. (photo by Ray Robles)

Why is this Important?

OUR BIRDS ARE DECLINING AT ALARMING RATES.

The insular Caribbean is a global biodiversity conservation “hotspot” that is home to over 700 species of birds. Roughly half of these bird species are residents in the Caribbean, including 171 that are endemic – meaning they are found nowhere else in the world! The other half are migratory, splitting their time between temperate and tropical habitats in the Americas, and shared among multiple countries along the way. 

For some migratory birds, the Caribbean islands are the perfect winter retreat — they arrive in early fall and stay until spring. Others use one or more islands as stopover sites to rest and refuel as they fly between their breeding and wintering grounds further south. Whether they stay or move on, they are much-loved visitors, reflecting the seasons and inspiring our cultural expressions.

Unfortunately, bird populations are declining. Fifty-nine Caribbean species are at risk of extinction, listed as Vulnerable (30), Endangered (24), or Critically Endangered (5) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A recent study found that nearly 30% of the bird populations in North America since 1970 have been lost, and Caribbean species are among the many that are in trouble.

Birds in the Caribbean face an entire suite of threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and invasive species. In addition, climate change has become a constant  danger to the region, not only to people, but also to wildlife. The Caribbean is experiencing increasingly intense hurricanes, long droughts, and dramatic changes to the marine environment. The threats are growing for our vulnerable birds, and we can’t afford to lose any more.

Brown Pelicans at Port Royal, with the docks of Kingston Harbour in the background. I took this photo when BirdLife Jamaica was conducting BirdsCaribbean’s Caribbean Waterbird Census.

Needed now: An effective bird monitoring system in the Caribbean

Research on our birds has progressed considerably in recent decades, but we still lack basic information on many species. We need to understand them better if we are to save them.

At BirdsCaribbean we partner with international, regional, and local partners to develop long-term monitoring programs, e.g. our Caribbean Waterbird Census program. We are using several strategic tools for doing so, and we are confident that the Motus Wildlife Tracking System will become an invaluable resource for strengthening our efforts.

We need to identify the most critical sites and habitats for our migratory, resident, and endemic birds, and we need to assess the threats they face. Importantly, we need to raise awareness about why all of this matters.

The Caribbean Motus Collaboration (CMC) can inform and promote bird conservation

Our partners are eager to build the Motus network in the Caribbean. The initiative is gaining momentum quickly and the time to act is now! As a regional organization, BirdsCaribbean is keen to facilitate this effort and assist our partners.

Our collaboration will enhance the efforts of those working to grow the network in other regions of the Americas. And it will shed light on the movements and habitat use of bird species of conservation concern. This knowledge is essential to safeguarding birds throughout their full life cycles and reversing population declines.

Caribbean natural resource managers, including many of our partner organizations throughout the region, will be able to use information from the Motus network to identify the most important sites and habitats for our resident and migratory birds. Once identified, those in the Caribbean network and beyond will be able to focus our work on these most critical areas, alleviating threats and protecting these sites. By building the capacity to use this powerful tool, we will also be contributing to the development of local research and environmental education programs. The knowledge, skills, and appreciation for birds will multiply. It’s a “win-win” for the birds, and for those who work to conserve them in the region.

We may not realize it, but the small “yellow birds” we see around at certain times of year may well be migratory birds, such as this Cape May Warbler at our bird bath in Kingston, Jamaica. He has flown down from North America for the winter, and will return to breed – possibly in Canada or the Great Lakes region in evergreen forests. Its numbers have been steadily declining. (My photo)

We Need Your Help!

To grow the CMC, we are seeking funding from granting agencies and private donors, and looking to establish partnerships with international and regional organizations, landowners, and businesses in the Caribbean.

Can you suggest a good site for a Motus receiver station? Stations should be located in secure areas that are optimal for detecting movements of birds (e.g., migration flyways, prime habitat for resident and migratory birds). Receivers can be installed as independent structures that are powered by solar panels. However, installing a station on existing structures (e.g., building roofs, fire towers, abandoned telephone towers, radio towers, etc.), especially those with access to electricity, can significantly reduce costs. 

Would you or your organization be willing to maintain Motus receiver stations on your island? Motus stations should require minimal maintenance. However, depending on the station setup, data might need to be downloaded a few times each year. It is also important to regularly check that the stations are in working order, particularly following a storm or other disturbance.

Are you interested in sponsoring a Motus receiver station or nanotags, or know of an individual, organization, or business who would be? The components of receiver stations cost approximately US$4,800, and the total cost of a station (including installation, maintenance, personnel, etc.) is US$10k. Nanotags, which will be deployed on priority species to track their movements, cost US$225 each. But any amount is helpful! This is a highly tangible way to get involved in the conservation of Caribbean species.

Click here to make a donation!

*NOTE: This year, our fundraiser for Global Big Day (May 8th, 2021) will raise funds for the Caribbean Motus Collaboration. We hope that you will participate – stay tuned! 

If you are interested in contributing to the CMC in any capacity, we want to hear from you! Please fill out this short survey so that we can gather information and follow up with you.

Special thanks to the Northeast Motus Collaboration for their generous help, advice, and encouragement in developing this project! 

Motus receiving stations function similar to automated toll booths on a highway – every time a bird passes over the station it’s recorded, just as automated toll booths record license plates. The stations have a range of about 9 miles or 15 km. (Ruddy Turnstone photo by Maikel Cañizares)

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