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KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources using new technology resource to monitor state’s wildlife


Researchers with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources have a new resource to aid in ongoing efforts to track and conserve wildlife.

With the participation of key partners, wildlife biologists have installed three Motus Wildlife Tracking System stations in Kentucky since January 2023. The Motus system is an international network of researchers that use automated radio telemetry to track numerous species of birds, bats and insects.

An extension of Birds Canada, there are nearly 1,800 Motus receiver stations set up in 34 countries listening for signals from more than 44,000 tagged animals.

With the support of the Louisville Zoo and Murray State University, a Motus station was installed at the Hancock Biological Station in Marshall County in western Kentucky. The other two stations are installed at Eastern Kentucky University’s Taylor Fork Property and at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in central Kentucky.

Eastern Whip-poor-will (Photo courtesy of D.J. McNeil)

“These stations consist of a specialized radio receiver that automatically scans for, decodes and saves data on individual birds using unique tags attached to them,” said Michael Patton, avian biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The antennas allow us to scan at greater distances, up to 10 miles, in the direction each antenna is pointing.”

Automated radio telemetry uses receivers that automatically record signals from radio transmitters. It is used in a wide variety of ecological applications particularly for tracking migration of small animals. Collaborative automated radio telemetry uses coordinated arrays of automated stations that are all monitoring the same frequency to detect tagged animals over large areas.

Already contributing important information, the stations allow agency biologists to track tagged birds flying in and through Kentucky to collect data for local research projects, as well as to contribute to the data used by many other independent researchers in the Western Hemisphere.

“Motus provides us with an additional tool to learn more about the movements of Kentucky’s species of greatest conservation need,” Patton said. “This technology allows us to track small birds at greater distances than was previously possible.”

The Hancock Biological Station Motus tower detected its first tagged bird this past October. The individual was an Eastern Whip-poor-will, tagged in July at St. Williams Conservation Reserve in Norfolk, Ontario, and flew by the station during its fall migration.

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are one of Kentucky’s species of greatest conservation need — vertebrates, insects and plants identified as imperiled or facing serious threats by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and other state authorities. The full list of such species in Kentucky, and conservation actions necessary to help abate the threats and foster sustainability of these species, are contained in the commonwealth’s State Wildlife Action Plan.

“We are looking to increase the number of stations throughout the state to not only better detect birds tagged in Kentucky, but also those that were tagged in other states and countries,” Patton said.

The department has many ongoing bird research projects that involve the use of Motus tags, and the stations were installed to support current tracking efforts and benefit future local research.

Individuals can help support research and conservation efforts aimed at Kentucky’s bird populations by joining Kentucky Wild, a membership-based program with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife that directly supports vulnerable wildlife in the state.

For more information about birds in Kentucky, visit the agency’s website at fw.ky.gov. Visit Birdscanada.org/motus or motus.org to learn more about ongoing international research efforts.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources


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