The School of Environmental Sciences at Lethbridge College is eager to study more about the migratory flightpaths of animals as a relatively new collaborator on the Motus Wildlife Tracking System.
A program of Birds Canada, Motus is an international collaborative research network that uses telemetry – the automatic measurement and wireless transmission of data from remote sources – to facilitate research and education on the ecology and conservation of migratory animals. The system can track numerous species of birds, bats and even insects like dragonflies.
The college’s system – one of only four in Alberta – was installed in the Cousins Building earlier this year with help from the Facilities department and local contractors Communications Group Lethbridge and DA Electric. On Feb. 15, the system officially deployed. If an animal with a transmitter passes within a 15 km radius of the college’s telemetry system, its specific frequency, along with the date and time, will be recorded onto a small Raspberry Pi computer.
Every couple of weeks, Jonathan Friesen, equipment and lab technician for the Centre of Technology, Environment and Design, downloads information that’s been recorded onto the Raspberry Pi and then uploads it to Motus for processing.
“Our system detected its first migratory bird, a Swainson’s Thrush, on Sept. 16,” says Friesen. “It had been tagged in Whistler, B.C., and by looking at Motus and its network of systems, we can see this bird migrated across the Rocky Mountains, past Lethbridge, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and into Missouri.”
Information on the bird’s approximate flightpath, and the flightpaths of hundreds of others across the globe, is available for the public to view as part of an overall effort to share migratory data. There are more than 1,550 Motus receiver stations currently operating in 34 countries across five continents.
The college has also purchased 10 of its own transmitters or “Nanotags” that will be attached to robins in the spring as part of the college’s Field Ornithology course taken by Environmental Sciences students. Data collected from the robins and their flightpaths will be used in student senior research projects or in the School of Environmental Sciences degree programs.
“This system opens up immense opportunities to study avian movements at a crucial time in avian conservation,” says Shane Roersma, wildlife biologist and a Lethbridge College Biological Sciences instructor. “There have been substantial losses in avian populations in the last 50 years – and many of the reasons behind those losses are speculative or unknown. We need hard and reliable data if we are to reverse this declining trend. Motus provides a unique opportunity for collaboration among numerous institutions and agencies towards that endeavour.”
Learn more about the Motus Wildlife Tracking System at motus.org and about programs in Lethbridge College’s School of Environmental Sciences at lethbridgecollege.ca.