Motus

Cayuga Bird Club Motus Project

Supporting Research on Migratory Birds

Last updated June 28, 2022 by Diane Morton

Motus Wildlife Tracking, developed by Bird Studies Canada, is a method of using radio telemetry to follow the movements of birds and other wildlife. Individual birds or animals are equipped with a tiny radio transmitter (nanotag) that can be detected by specialized radio receivers at different geographic locations. This tracking method contributes to our understanding of migration routes, timing, and stopover habitats for different species, and does not require re-capture of tagged individuals. If a radio-tagged bird flies within a few miles of a receiver, its detection is logged. Data from the network of Motus receivers are transmitted to motus.org, allowing automated tracking of hundreds of individuals of many different species simultaneously. This information enables mapping of each tagged individual’s seasonal trajectory and is shared with migration researchers throughout the international Motus network.

The Motus network benefits from having receiving stations at many different geographical points, to allow for more detailed mapping of migration pathways. To see a map of the international Motus network, which has grown steadily, see https://motus.org/data/receiversMap?lang=en.

On October 19, 2019, Cayuga Bird Club installed the first Motus station in southern Central New York, at Myers Park in Lansing NY, filling a gap in the Motus array in this region.

NEW! Cayuga Bird Club added a second Motus station atop Mount Pleasant, near Cornell's Hartung-Boothroyd Observatory, northeast of Ithaca. This receiver for this Motus tower was activated on June 18, 2022. The higher elevation of the tower on Mount Pleasant may increase the range of signal detection for tagged birds during their migration.

A closer view of our region, below, shows the locations of our two Cayuga Bird Club receivers in Central New York.

Cayuga Bird Club was helped enormously with our Motus project by Bryant Dossman, a graduate student with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who studies bird migration. The Town of Lansing generously provided a location for our first radio tower at Myers Park, on the southeast shore of Cayuga Lake. You may see our Cayuga Bird Club radio tower above one of the pavilions the next time you visit the park. This station was upgraded by Bryant Dossman in July 2021 to enable detection of solar-powered CTT Life-Tags, which are becoming more frequently used in studies of bird migration.

The new receiver on Mount Pleasant, which Bryant also helped to put together, is solar-powered and equipped to detect signals from both standard (166Mhz) and CTT (434MHz) tags used for migratory bird studies.

Bryant Dossman adjusts the antennae for our Motus tower at Myers Park

Connecting the new Motus receiver at Mount Pleasant

Myers Point Motus Detections

Just a few weeks after our first Motus receiver (#5852) was activated in 2019, an American Woodcock was detected on its southward migration. This receiver also detected a radio-tagged Common Nighthawk, Blackpoll Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, two Rusty Blackbirds, American Pipit, Ovenbird, and a Ruddy Turnstone from August 2020 through May 2021. Data for these detections was relayed back to the motus.org network for access by migration researchers and can be viewed here: https://motus.org/data/receiverDeploymentDetections?id=5852.

Our upgraded receiver (#7924) at Myers Park detected three Swainson’s Thrushes and a Tennessee Warbler during their fall migration in 2021. Two of these birds were later detected in Central America!

See https://motus.org/data/receiverDeploymentDetections?id=7924.

To learn more about each detected bird, click on the link for each “Tag deployment” listed on the webpage, or below here for more information on each bird's flight path.

August - October, 2021
Motus Detections at Myers Point

Birds detected by Cayuga Bird Club’s Myers Point Motus receiver from August 2021 - October 2021 are listed below with dates and locations of their original tag release date.


Swainson's Thrush, photo by Suan Yong

Over a three week period in September and October, 2021, our Motus receiver at Myers Point detected three Swainson’s Thrushes on their fall migration. Each of these birds had been tagged in Montreal as part of a study of songbirds migrating through the Grand Parc de l’Ouest in Montreal. One goal of this study is to inspire habitat improvements in local areas around Montreal where migratory birds pause on their southward migration.


One Swainson’s Thrush detected by our Motus station at Myers Point on September 16 made it to Panama! This thrush was tagged in Montreal on September 6, detected by two stations north of Syracuse on September 14, and then at Cayuga Bird Club’s Myers Point station on September 16. The thrush was subsequently detected in West Virginia on September 25, in South Carolina on September 26, and on October 16 detected by a station in Panama, at the Panama Sewage Plant.


Two other Swainson’s Thrushes, also tagged in Montreal, were detected by our receiver. A Swainson’s Thrush that flew by Myers point on September 30, was also detected by stations in Pennsylvania (10/11/2021) and South Carolina (10/14/2021). Another Swainson’s Thrush that flew by our receiver on October 9 has had no additional detections reported south of us.


Swainson’s Thrushes nest primarily in the Boreal forests of Canada. This species has experienced a population loss of more than 35% since the 1960’s, but is still relatively abundant. However, the nocturnal fall migration of Swanson’s Thrushes is quite hazardous, with high mortality reported due to collisions with windows, communications towers and tall buildings. The Lights Out initiative could help these and other nocturnal migrants to complete their migrations more safely.

Swainson's Thrush migration, Fall 2021. See https://motus.org/data/track?tagDeploymentId=35914

10/5/2021 - Tennessee Warbler:

Tennessee Warbler at Myers Park,
photo by Jay McGowan

A Tennessee Warbler, detected by our receiver at Myers Park on October 5, 2021, has been detected in Costa Rica! This Tennessee Warbler was tagged in Montreal on September 9. The bird was also detected in Florida on October 23 before its detection at a brand new Motus station in the Veragua Rainforest of Costa Rica on November 19. This was the first bird detected by that station in Costa Rica, which had just been installed in November, 2021.


Tennessee Warblers breed in the Boreal Forests of Canada and winter in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. The species was named by Ornithologist Alexander Wilson who found the bird in Tennessee during its migration. Tennessee Warblers have remained less vulnerable to decline that many other songbird species, perhaps because of their broad use of a variety of habitats.

Tennessee Warbler migration, Fall 2021. See https://motus.org/data/track?tagDeploymentId=36502





Our First Detection:
11/8/2019 - American Woodcock

American Woodcock, photo by Suan Yong

The first bird that our Motus receiver detected was a migrating American Woodcock. From the Motus.org webpage for this receiver (#5852), you can click on “PARC#147.9.7 M.33857” tag deployment to learn more. This woodcock had been tagged with a Lotek transmitter on 4-27-2019, near Cleveland, Ohio, as part of a Powdermill Nature Reserve project. This tag was detected by 17 Motus receivers over the course of seven months.

Looking at the detections on “a map” (not “a timeline”), you can see the locations of these detections, resulting in a map of the bird’s migratory movements:

https://motus.org/data/track?tagDeploymentId=24936.

The woodcock migrated north from Ohio to Ontario in April and May and then disappeared from the Motus detection array. There are some detections near Winnipeg MB in July. The bird then reappeared November 1 near a receiver north of Kingston, Ontario. Detection next occurred at Wolfe Island, Ontario on November 7, and by our Myers Point station the same evening. The final detection was at Mt Pisgah, North Carolina on November 9.

A timeline showing the time of day for for the fall detections of this American Woodcock is shown below. Time (UTC) is shown across the X-axis, while dates are on the Y-axis. Different colors correspond to detections by different receiving stations.

(Note: Timelines are accessible only to Motus account holders at motus.org, but maps and tables of Motus detections are accessible without an account).

Detection at our Myers Point Motus station (teal color) occurred at approximately 01:45 UTC, 11-8-19. Converting UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) to Eastern Standard Time (EST) by subtracting 5 hours, this woodcock passed by Myers Point at approximately 8:45 pm EST,
11-7-19. This was just 3 hours after detections at Wolfe Island (red) and Amherst Island (olive brown) receivers, 150 miles north of us. This bird may have been flying at speeds of over 40 mph! The final detection (pink) was 33 hours later at 5:30 am EST 11-9-19, at Mt Pisgah, North Carolina, over 700 miles southwest of us.


August, 2020- May, 2021
Motus Detections at Myers Point

Birds detected by Cayuga Bird Club’s Myers Point Motus receiver #5852,
from August 2020 - May 2021 are listed below with dates and locations of their original tag release date.

8-21-2020 - Common Nighthawk:

Common Nighthawk
photo by Diane Morton

On August 21, 2020, at approximately 7:20 pm, a Common Nighthawk was detected by Cayuga Bird Club’s Motus receiving station at Myers Point. The bird was tagged as part of a study being done by the Norris Lab at the University of Guelph, Ontario, to study Common Nighthawk and Eastern Whip-poor-will movements with the hope of gaining insight into why the populations of both species have seriously declined in recent decades. While the focus of the study is on these birds’ movements near their breeding grounds, data on their migratory behavior can also be gleaned from this project.

This Common Nighthawk was detected repeatedly during the summer at a site near Gravenhurst, Ontario, north of Toronto. The bird began its southward journey in August with detection west of Niagara Falls on August 17 and at the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory station on August 18, before being detected by our station at Myers Point on August 21st. This bird was subsequently detected in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and on September 7, in Vero Beach, Florida. Nighthawks and other nightjars are long-distance migrants; it will be interesting to learn if this bird is detected at more distant locations in the Caribbean or South America.

A map of Motus detections of the southward journey of this Common Nighthawk is shown below, from Ontario (8-10-20) to Florida (9-6-20). (Very short duration detections, which are likely spurious, have been filtered out.) Note that it is unknown whether the bird flew over the water from Delaware to Florida or took an inland route.

10-7-2020 - Blackpoll Warbler:

Blackpoll Warbler photo by Suan Yong

On October 7, 2020, at approximately 7:40 pm, our Cayuga Bird Club Motus receiver at Myers Point detected a Blackpoll Warbler on its southward migration. This bird had been radio-tagged two weeks earlier, on September 21st, at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory (BBBO) on the south shore of Lake Ontario. One of eighteen Blackpoll warblers tagged at BBBO this fall, this Blackpoll spent five days near the observatory before it departed to pass later by Myers Point. As of November 8, 2020, no additional detections further south have been reported.

Blackpoll Warblers are very long-distance migrants, flying up to 12,400 miles roundtrip each year between their nesting areas in northern Boreal forests to wintering grounds as far as the Amazon Basin of South America. While their spring migration is primarily overland, their fall migration can include a four-day trans-oceanic flight.

Blackpolls are one of the fastest declining songbirds in North America. Further studies of their migration routes will help to identify important areas to protect for their successful conservation.

Here is more from one recent study using geolocators to follow Blackpoll migration:

A Boreal Songbird's 20,000 km Migration Across North America and the Atlantic Ocean. DeLuca, et al., Ecological Society of America, 2019.

10-25-2020 - White-throated Sparrow:

White-throated Sparrow, photo by Phil McNeil

A White-throated Sparrow was detected at Myers Point on October 24, 2020 at approximately 10:30 pm EDT (October 25 03:30 UTC). White-throated sparrows, along with a number of other species, were tagged at Mary’s Point, New Brunswick for studies of migration and stopover ecology of migratory songbirds and bats. This White throated Sparrow headed west, and was detected at Upper and Lower Lakes WMA, New York, before it headed south toward Cayuga Lake. Detections further south have not yet been reported.

10-2020 - Rusty Blackbirds:

Rusty Blackbird,
photo by Suan Yong

Two Rusty Blackbirds were detected within a few days of one another at Myers Point in late October. Both birds had been tagged on October 2 at L’Observatoire d’Oiseaux de Tadoussac, Quebec (https://www.explosnature.ca/oot/), for a study of Rusty Blackbird fall migration routes and migratory connectivity. We detected one Rusty Blackbird at Myers Point on October 25 at approximately 2:20 am EDT and a second Rusty Blackbird on October 31 at 10:30 am EDT. Though these blackbirds had departed Tadoussac on different dates, their migratory paths are remarkably similar. (compare their maps, below.) These birds were most recently detected by receivers in Northern Maryland located 27 miles apart from one another. The Maryland detections occurred on November 12 and November 6.

11-3-2020 - American Pipit:

American Pipit at Myers Park, photo by Suan Yong

An American Pipit was detected at Myers Point on November 3, 2020, at approximately 11:00 am. This pipit had been tagged at Tadoussac, Quebec, on September 23. Prior to its detection at Myers Point, the bird was detected near Quebec City on October 10 and at Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area northwest of Syracuse on October 30.

American Pipits are medium-distance migrants, breeding in northern or mountainous regions of North America, and wintering in the southern United States, Mexico, or Central America. American Pipits are relatively common birds, but their population has fallen by as much as 30% since 1970. Changes to their arctic and alpine breeding habitats brought about by climate change are a concern for this species.

5-29-2021 - Ruddy Turnstone:

Ruddy Turnstone at Myers Park, photo by Barbara Clise

A migrating Ruddy Turnstone flew by our receiver on May 29, 2021 at approximately 12:50 pm EDT. This bird had been tagged just two days earlier on the southeastern coast of South Carolina, and was detected at six other Motus stations as it flew north. In just 26 1/2 hours, this Ruddy Turnstone flew from Port Royal, SC (7:45 pm EDT, 5/28) to Napanee, Ontario (10:20 pm EDT, 5/29) a distance of over 900 miles! This is the first shorebird detection for our Motus station.

Ruddy Turnstones are long-distance migrants that nest in the arctic tundra. Those that breed in northern Canada spend their winters along the coastlines of both North America and South America. During migration, they stop along coastal beaches and shorelines of fresh water lakes, feeding on insects and small crustaceans.

Ruddy Turnstones have been sighted at Myers Point and reported to eBird in previous years during their spring migration. The photo of the Ruddy Turnstone above was taken by Barbara Clise on May 30, 2020, at Myers Point, almost exactly a year prior to our Motus receiver’s detection of a turnstone in 2021.

We encourage you to explore Cayuga Bird Club’s Motus detections at https://motus.org/data/receiverDeploymentDetections?id=5852 (Myers Park, 2019-May 2021)

New detections after our July 2021 receiver upgrade at Myers Park are being recorded at https://motus.org/data/receiverDeploymentDetections?id=7924

Detections from our station at Mount Pleasant will be recorded here: https://motus.org/data/receiverDeployment?id=8762

If you have questions about this project, contact Diane Morton at DianeGMorton at gmail dot com.