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Motus Network Tracks Birds Over Thousands of Miles

By Jeremy Halka, IBO Research Biologist

In 2022, IBO continued its partnership with MPG Ranch, based in Missoula, MT, to maintain the Idaho Motus network while adding a few new Motus stations- two at CJ Strike Wildlife Management Area, and one at Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Motus stations can shut down at any moment from a variety of issues, so keeping the network up and running can be difficult and time consuming.

a solar panel and large antenna stand in the foreground. Behind you can see CJ Strike reservoir
Motus Station at CJ Strike Wildlife Management Area. Photo Credit: Jeremy Halka

The hard work to maintain and continue growing the network is nonetheless fulfilling!

Especially when we discover more and more tag detections at our stations every year. As the network grows throughout North America and beyond, we are really gaining some amazing insight into migration paths and even wintering grounds for smaller bird species that we weren’t able to track before Motus.

image shows 2 small brown and white birds on a barbed wire fence
Bank Swallows are colony nesters, (up to 20,000 in a colony!) digging burrows into the face of a vertical banks or cliffs. They primarily eat flying insects and can be seen feeding solo or in large groups. Populations of these swallows have crashed and they are listed as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline”. Photo Credit: Tom Carroll

In 2022,  we tracked movements of a Bank Swallow that was originally tagged in British Columbia. Two stations in Idaho picked up the swallow’s signals during its southbound migration past the towers at Camas Wildlife National Refuge and Market Lake Wildlife Management Area.

map of Idaho, southern British Columbia, and Alberta shows migration line of Bank Swallow
We detected a Bank Swallow tagged in in British Columbia, Canada, at our Camas NWR and Market Lake WMA stations as it migrated south. (BANS Connectivity 2022)

This year we also received numerous detections of Swainson’s Thrushes tagged on a research project in British Columbia, Canada, as well as Common Poorwills tagged by MPG Ranch.

A photo of a swainson's thrush
Swainson’s Thrushes have a flute-like quality to their song and will defend their territories by having “singing duels”. In certain habitats, they will sometimes utilize horsehair fungus in the nest, which may help ward off nest pathogens. Photo Credit: Ceredig Roberts

Two different Swainson’s Thrushes tagged in British Columbia, Canada, followed similar fall migration paths: we detected one at our Salmon and Deer Parks WMU stations, followed by stations in Nebraska and Florida; the other was detected at our Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) station, followed by stations in Nebraska and Missouri.

Migratory route of Swainson's Thrush "A". From British Columbia to Florida
Migratory route of Swainson’s Thrush “A” from British Columbia, Canada where it was tagged. Detections were picked up at MOTUS stations in Idaho, Nebraska and Florida. (Thrushes 2022)
Migratory route of Swainson's Thrush "B" from British Columbia to Missouri
Migratory route of Swainson’s Thrush “B” from British Columbia, Canada where it was tagged. Detections were picked up at MOTUS stations in Idaho, Nebraska, and Missouri. (Thrushes 2022)

Other exciting discoveries included some “firsts”!

These initial detections for MPG Ranch at our Idaho stations included our first ever Lewis’s Woodpecker at Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and a wintering Northern Saw-whet Owl at Niagara Springs WMA. The Northern Saw-whet Owl was detected for a week straight in November 2021, and then almost every day from early February through late March 2022.

a closeup of a beautiful woodpecker with iridescent green-black back and rosy face
Lewis’s Woodpeckers rely mostly on empty crevices in trees for nesting. They feed on fruits and nuts, and can be seen catching insects in mid-air, which is unusual for woodpeckers. This species is on the “Yellow List” indicating that without swift conservation action, they are most at risk for extinction. Photo Credit: Richard Baltierra

One Motus station in particular, located at the Idaho Fish and Game regional office in Salmon, has been quite the hotspot for MGP Ranch-tagged birds.

To add to this excitement, the Salmon station also detected Silver-haired Bats originally tagged at MPG Ranch!

Another interesting set of detections include a Willet picked up during its migration through Idaho. It was tagged on the west coast of Mexico in spring 2022 then detected in July at a station in Govenlock, Canada.

image shows a medium sized white and grey bird with black wing tips
Willets are ground-nesting shorebirds that utilize a “broken-wing” display to lure predators away from their eggs. Along with using their keen eyesight to locate aquatic invertebrates, they also have a specialized bill with a sensitive tip allowing them to forage day or night. Loss of habitat has landed this species on the “State of the Birds” Watch list. Photo Credit: Ceredig Roberts

On its southbound migration, this Willet journeyed past three Idaho stations!

Our Salmon, Market Lake WMA, and Deer Parks Wildlife Mitigation Unit (WMU) stations all picked up this Willet as it continued south to the Mexican coast where it was detected about a week later.

Migratory route of Willet from Mexico to Canada
A roundtrip migratory route of a Willet originally tagged the spring of 2022 on the west coast of Mexico. Map Courtesy of:

We would like to thank MPG Ranch, especially William Blake and Kate Stone, for partnering with us to expand and maintain the Motus network in Idaho. We would also like to thank the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Power, Idaho Transportation Department, The Peregrine Fund, and Kuna High School for hosting stations.

Did you know that YOU can access this cool migratory movement data?!

Check out to learn more about the network and to look at receiver locations and detections!

This article is part of our 2022 end of the year newsletter! View the full newsletter here, or click “older posts” to read the next article.

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Motus Data and Maps

  • BANS Connectivity. 2022. Bank Swallow Migratory Connectivity Motus Project. Data accessed from the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Birds Canada. Available: Accessed: 3 November 2022.
  • NW Mexico. 2022. Coastal Motus Network in NW Mexico Project. Data accessed from the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Birds Canada. Available: Accessed: 3 November 2022.
  • Thrushes. 2022. BC Interior Thrushes Motus Project. Data accessed from the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Birds Canada. Available: Accessed: 3 November 2022.