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Washington College's bird banding lab joins international Motus Wildlife Tracking System

My Eastern Shore

May 8, 2019


Washington College’s Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory has become part of an international network that is revolutionizing scientists’ ability to understand the lives and migratory patterns of birds, bats and even large insects.

Two stations installed in late April, one atop a grain elevator at the River and Field Campus and another on the James Gruber Banding Laboratory, are among the first 10 Motus Wildlife Tracking System stations in the state and the only ones associated with a college or university in Maryland, a news release states.

Motus is Latin for “movement.” Developed in Canada, the Motus Wildlife Tracking System now has more than 500 stations — and counting — that can track animals tagged with nanotags, digitally encoded radio transmitters which emit a specific signal with an individual identifier.

As it passes within range of a station, a tagged animal can be identified, and as the network expands, it’s giving scientists the opportunity to ask entirely new questions in their research into migration patterns and methods.

“While this system probably won’t replace banding in the near future because of economics, it will clearly play a role in tracking a single bird’s migratory pathway from start to finish and return, now and in the future. It will require numerous towers throughout the country to accomplish that,” said Jim Gruber, founder and master bander of FBBO, in the release. “With the antennas in place, Washington College students could potentially develop their own localized studies using not only birds, but insects, bats, and other small flying organisms.”