Cutting-edge bird tracking technology comes to Philadelphia

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September 22, 2017

Birds tell us a lot about the environment of which we are also a part,” shares the Director of the Bird Conservation Program at Willistown Conservation Trust and Master of Environmental Studies (MES) lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, Lisa Kiziuk (MES ’04). “Half of all migratory birds have declined in the last 50 years, which is an alarming number. Loss of habitat is the number one reason, along with human presence and climate change,” she continues, “If we can better understand why these birds are declining, it can clue us in about our future as a species.”

This is where Motus comes in. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a global network of radio telemetry stations that digitally track movement through nanotags attached to birds, bats and other small flying species. Lisa was one of the first researchers in the region to connect the Philadelphia area to the Motus network.

“Since 2014, this technology has given us 400-million data points,” she explains, “We are making discoveries in bird behaviors, but more importantly, we are learning about the habitats where they flourish and where they avoid.”

Lisa frequently trains Penn’s Master of Environmental Studies students and local volunteers in traditional bird banding and the Motus method at Willistown. Students in Lisa’s course can “get hands-on experiences in data collection and application and how that fits into the conservation of a species.” Soon, the University of Pennsylvania may have its first Motus tower on campus. She adds, “Very little is known about what is happening over cities. It would be a great research initiative for a student to track what is flying over Philadelphia.”

The coordinated efforts between scientists all around the globe are what Lisa finds most promising about this technology. “Historically, scientists work in silos, do their research and publish it. This is a very altruistic project. People are sharing data and use of stations. Everyone is driven by the bigger picture—saving these birds.” She concludes, “When you work together, your work is more powerful.”

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