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Friends of Patuxent

Supporting Research, Wildlife Conservation, and Education at the Patuxent Research Refuge
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Motus Wildlife Tracking System Tower at Patuxent Research Refuge

The Friends of Patuxent acquired funding from the Maryland Ornithological Society to support the installation of a receiving tower for the Motus Wildlife Tracking System at Patuxent Research Refuge near the National Wildlife Visitor Center. The Motus network ( tracks migrating wildlife, particularly birds but also bats, butterflies, dragonflies, and other wildlife, using small lightweight transmitters whose signal is detected by receivers located internationally. The receivers record the presence of the animals with precise temporal accuracy.

Tags affixed to animals are unique and may be tracked across landscapes by Motus stations to determine the location, time spent around a tracking beacon, transit across landscapes to determine migration speed and distance, and other migration ecology data. A community of researchers around the world maintains the Motus stations and reports data to a centralized database where it is accessible to a wide variety of researchers and to the public. Each station operates independently but the collective network provides a unique new window on local, regional, and even hemispheric migration and animal tracking, enabling much greater collaboration and knowledge sharing among researchers.

The Motus network is a program of Birds Canada and is assisted by a network of participating research organizations and researchers in the US, Canada, and other nations. Nearly 1,300 Motus receiver stations have been erected in 31 countries on 4 continents. The data are retrievable locally and are sharable internationally.

Data on migrating birds passing through or resting at the Patuxent Research Refuge are captured by the Motus receiver station mounted on a telephone pole in an open area just a few hundred yards northeast of the National Wildlife Visitor Center, near the trail toward Cash Lake. Because of a technical issue, the data from the Patuxent Research Refuge receiver cannot currently be retrieved, but will be once internet connectivity issues are resolved. The Friends of Patuxent supports a plan to boost the signal and make it available in real time in the Visitor Center so that visitors can access the log of the receiver to view the date, time, and species of migratory birds that pass through and near the Refuge. Check back on this page for updates and progress on making Patuxent’s Motus receiver accessible to visitors to the Refuge.

Just to give you a glimpse of the exciting potential of the Motus tracking system for education and potential research, here are a few examples of birds that have passed by the receiver at Patuxent Research Refuge since the receiver was switched on:

  • A Sora rail was fitted with a transmitter in 2019 at the Jug Bay Natural Area on the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County. In September, 2020, that individual Sora was picked up by 20 different towers during a tremendous migration from the other side of Lake Michigan near Milwaukee, WI, across Lake Michigan, across Lake Erie, into Pennsylvania, and then on past Patuxent Research Refuge, to land in Jug Bay not far from where it was originally tagged. The bird went on to winter near Jacksonville, FL.

  • On October 25, 2020, a Blackpoll Warbler originating near Rochester, NY, came through Patuxent Research Refuge and then on to Jug Bay on a fall migration taking a little over a month.

  • In April 2021, a Rusty Blackbird originating in Delaware went south to Newtown Neck on the Potomac River in St. Mary’s County, then north at an average speed of 68 kph past the Patuxent River Park at Jug Bay, then past the Refuge, and on to Canada where it settled in the St. Lawrence River area near Quebec.

  • On June 30, 2021, a Semipalmated Plover was picked up near Churchill, Manitoba in Hudson Bay, came south through Lake Huron, across Lake Erie, through Pennsylvania, past Patuxent Research Refuge, and on to the Eastern Shore where it settled near Ocean City, MD.

There are other interesting hits from 2021, including three separate Swainson’s Thrushes that left New Brunswick in Canada, traveling south to pass the Refuge on successive nights of October 9, 10, and 11, 2021, on their way to South Carolina; multiple hits from Purple Martins at the Refuge, some sighted hanging around the Motus tower itself; and Red Bats that traveled from northern Pennsylvania to Patuxent Research Refuge.

The Friends will continue to support educational and research use of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System at the Patuxent Research Refuge. For more information go to and view some of the hundreds of research projects presently underway utilizing Motus.

February 2, 2022

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