This is an exciting time to be involved in bird conservation and research. For more than a hundred years, our knowledge of bird migration was gleaned from banding studies. Banding a bird and hoping that someone, somewhere would recover that banded bird. Like most bird observatories, SABO has been banding birds since our inception, banding nearly 20,000 birds, (mostly hummingbirds), but banding is a crude method for migration study. We’ve watched as the technology improved and through stable isotope studies, light level geolocators, and satellite telemetry scientists’ understanding of migration improved. With advances in technology, the tracking methods became more sophisticated and smaller and more affordable.

The latest innovation is called the MOTUS network and involves specialized tags that can be detected by receivers whenever they pass by, similar to the way your cell phone “pings” the nearby towers. A growing network of MOTUS stations around the world can provide real time data about migration. The tags themselves have become so small that they can be deployed on butterflies and dragonflies. At the recent International Conference of Bird Observatories in Veracruz, Mexico we were so excited about the growing network of cooperators, that we were determined to find a way for southeastern Arizona to be a part of this growing movement.

Those plans took a giant leap forward this week when the wonderful folks at Cellular Tracking Technologies awarded SABO a complete receiver system as a part of their holiday give away. We are humbled by their selection, we’re sure there are dozens of deserving projects around the world that applied. There will be more equipment needed before we fully deploy our station including the antennae, wiring and the specialized receiver for the smallest of tags (hummingbird research, anyone?) and we will be asking our members and donors for help, but this is a major step forward.

We’re now a part of a MOTUS working group coordinating efforts across Arizona that includes representatives from Arizona Game and Fish, Arizona Audubon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. U. S. Forest Service, Bird Conservancy of the West, The Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Reclamation. We will work with them to make sure our site or sites have the maximum benefit. We plan to have a station with our partners at Casa De San Pedro. As a small non-profit with access to private sites we can move more quickly than the agencies with their red tape. We will continue to band hummingbirds to learn more about their site fidelity, longevity and molt, but we are excited to be a part of the new wave of avian research. We should learn more about migration in the next ten years than the last one hundred years. As more sites come on-line and more researchers put tags on more organisms (birds, bats, butterflies) it should be very exciting.