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Across the Caribbean, thousands of birds of all sizes and species are busy preparing for their long journey to return to their northern breeding grounds. It’s migration time, marked by the celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, an event created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in 1993. It has been observed ever since by North American bird lovers each May, while birders in the Caribbean, Central and South America celebrate in October.

One of the questions on conservationists’ minds is how to determine which of the approximately 200 migratory species are on the wing at a particular time? Where might they be heading? Is their journey hundreds or thousands of miles? Where do they stop for rest and food? Now, an innovative programme could help shed some light on bird migration.

Designed with the objective of enabling conservation and ecological research by tracking the movement of animals, 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 to study the movements and behaviour of flying creatures, such as birds, bats and insects, that are nano-tagged and tracked by Motus receivers.

The system consists of hundreds of receiver stations and thousands of deployed nanotags on over 236 species, mostly birds. Scientists’ understanding of birds has already expanded because of data from this network, including pinpointing migration routes and key stopover sites, as well as movements, habitat use, and rituals during breeding and non-breeding seasons. This new technology and growing network of partnerships and data sharing hold great potential in bird and animal conservation.

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