Posted by: atowhee | November 12, 2022


The Motus Tower at the Nature Center, Ankeny NWR, is up and running. Than ks to hard work by US Fish & Wildlife staff and dedicated volunteers. And thanks to Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife that granted the money to Salem Audubon to pay for the gear.

[“Motus” in Lain means “movement.”]

Yesterday, Veterans Day, the tower began transmitting data to the Motus Network. Our first transmitter was on a Dunlin that travels between Vancouver Island (likely nesting even further north) and the Sacramento Valley. The bird was first tagged last January.

This Motus tower is one of a handful in Oregon. Two at Malheur NWR, one at Bandon, two run by Klamath Bird Observatory in Jackson County, one on a professor’s lawn in Eugene. Ankeny is the only one in Northern Oregon. We have long known that migrants use the Willamette Valley. This will add hard evidence, data and inevitable discoveries.

There are some tech adjustments to be made, antennae to move, etc. There will be repeaters added when they arrive from the supplier, giving signals back to the tower for areas currently out of “line-of-sight” of the fixed antennae on tower. But here is our coverage map right now.

Here is piece I wrote for “Oregon Birds” journal last winter:

The Salem Audubon Society is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to put up a Motus receiver on the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in Marion County.  It could become only the sixth [7th] Motus installation in the entire state of Oregon.

So what?  So Motus is the most all-seeing, all-recording bird tracking technology we’ve ever had.  It is a global network of receivers and an online data base that can be used to study bird movement, range use, feeding and roosting behavior.  There are over 1300 Motus receivers already arrayed over five continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia (only 2) and Australia.  The receivers are in more than 30 countries and over 31,000 birds have been tagged.

This system and the many research projects using its advantages are based on radio telemetry.  A tiny transmitter is attached to the bird which is released back into nature.  Any time that bird comes within ten miles or so of a receiver it’s presence and exact movements are tracked and recorded, for twenty minutes or months on end.  No observer is required to get binocs on the bird, no camera needed, nobody in the field listening at 3 A.M.  Digital tech does most of the work once transmitter and receiver are in place.

The Motus receiver at Ankeny is expected to be the first in the [northern] Willamette Valley, a major migration route and home to large numbers of wintering birds from further north or east of the Cascades.  The Bandon tower is still the only one on the Oregon Coast.  Klamath Bird Observatory has two.  One is along the Rogue River north of Medford—one if its earliest subjects is Lewis’s Woodpecker.  Last fall it recorded two coming to Jackson County from the mountains of Idaho/Montana. The second tower is in the Cascades at Howard Prairie, east of Ashland.  One focus there: Vesper Sparrows. Two more towers have been installed at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One is on the maintenance shop roof at headquarters, with a great view of wetlands and south shore of Klamath Lake.  The second is an Boca Lake, about halfway between the Narrows and Frenchglen and closed to the public. This one relies on solar power and data must be downloaded as there is no internet out there.

One study of Black Terns using Motus found that nearly all the individuals spent some of their winter off the coast of Panama.

A study of migratory Swainson’s Thrushes in fall found those still molting would stay 45 days or more at a stopover, much longer than any bird-banding data had suggested.

Another, Oregon-involved, bit of Swainson’s Thrush data indicates how little we know and how wrong our mammal brains’ assumptions can be when  considering bird behavior.  In September, 2021, the motus station at Bandon picked up two birds previously banded up in Alaska.  Perfectly logical–directly down along the coast, avoiding open sea, mountains, arid inland.  They’re headed to Central and South America.  But we assume they would later pass over San Diego, then maybe Acapulco, right? The next Motus signals from these two were detected in…North Carolina, due east of Bandon!  From there they crossed the Caribbean to Latin America.  So much we don’t know but Motus may yet teach us.


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