Operation Motus

If you’ve visited the Sanctuary lately, you may have noticed a new structure on the grounds. There are tall antennas mounted on a tower at the top of the hill overlooking the bay. No, this is not a UFO-tracking device. This is called a Motus receiver station and it tracks identifiable flying objects! Birds, bats, and insects, specifically. 

With help from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, USGS, Audubon Canyon Ranch, and other local specialists, the Motus station was installed at the end of July. Richardson Bay was one of seven national Audubon Centers to install a Motus station this year (1). The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a program of Birds Canada in collaboration with researchers and organizations worldwide. Using solar power, each tower reads radio signals transmitted by tagged creatures from small “backpacks” that they wear (1). An aptly named tower, “Motus” is Latin for “movement” (2), and that’s just what it tracks – stations will pick up tagged animal activity within a 5-kilometer radius, noting the time and location that the animal passes through (1). Activity is logged onto the Motus website at for anyone to view. 

Through a network of Motus stations collecting information from around the globe, anyone who wants to will be able to track the migration patterns of birds, bats, and insects. Think of it as a giant, worldwide, open-source community science project! At time of this writing, 1,532 stations have been erected by 1,499 partners (3). Dozens of stations have been installed along the Pacific Flyway, from Alaska to Mexico (4). Though the station at Richardson Bay Audubon Center has not tracked any birds yet, with migration picking up in October, we expect to track more activity shortly. Within the global Motus community, so far, 35,121 animals have been tagged across 294 species (3).

With this data, researchers will track the effects of climate change on migration patterns over time, as well as species abundance. Other projects informed by Motus data include the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on songbird migration, the role of weather on dragonfly migration, and the timing of Gray-cheeked Thrush migration from South America to Canada. To date, 532 projects based on Motus data have taken off and 152 publications have been written which include Motus observations (3). We look forward to following the projects that will take wing through this new technology and hope you’ll follow along!



How you can help, right now