New Wildlife Tracker Supports Community Science

Clear sightlines to the west, long horizons in all directions, lots of sky. Sound like Shelburne Farms a bit? It is! And our horizons and big sky make the farm a great place for a bit of science—radio telemetry, to be exact.

On June 1, a Motus radio telemetry tracking station was installed on an abandoned power pole at the dairy.  It was one small lift ride for us; but a big boost for wildlife and wildlife researchers.

The station’s antennae now scan the skies 24/7, 15 kilometers out in all directions, detecting any bird, bat, or insect that has been tagged with a Motus tag. The data gets fed directly into a computer attached to the antennae, then funneled into a larger database managed in Canada. Once the data is there, as part of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, any researcher in this international network can tap into it, and share their own. It’s essentially community science. 

It’s also a big infrastructure project. There are hundreds of tracking stations around the country and world. Interestingly, however, there are not many in New England yet.

The Northeast Motus Collaborative, who approached us as a potential location, is working to change that. In partnership with several state agencies and nonprofits, and supported by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Collaborative is aiming to install 50 sites across New England in the next two years. We’re one of seven sites currently (the next closest is at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge). 

In addition to the farm’s sweeping views, the old power pole was attractive to the Collaborative because it’s near Elm Swamp field. That’s one of the research fields at Shelburne Farms where Noah Perlut, a professor at the University of New England, has been studying grassland birds for nearly 20 years. This year, for the first time, Noah has begun using Motus tags on the birds he finds. And the station is already picking them up! Take a look at the data:

Radio telemetry isn’t actually science. It’s technology. But it is an important tool for science. And as more stations go up, and more data is collected from them, Todd Alleger of the Collaborative hopes more researchers will consider radiotelemetry as a valuable tool when structuring their research projects.

That’s how Shelburne Farms works, too. We don’t generally conduct science. But we love to support it where and when it makes sense, as a way to advance our shared understanding of the world around us and to help inspire its care. 

Thanks to Todd Alleger, Noah Perlut, Sam Dixon, and Paul Growald for connecting all the dots needed to get the station installed.

Posted by Holly Brough

June 18, 2021


Anywhere you walk on the Farm you can see and hear wildlife living and thriving around you. I saw my first Bobolink this past Saturday perched confidently on a sturdy reed in a section of pasture near to the Dairy. I am proud to know that being a member of Shelburne Farms means that I contribute to the protection of breeding grounds, and habitats of our fellow creatures who are essential to keeping the Earth's ecology healthy and abundant, and making it altogether viable to live and enjoy. Thank you, JPM.

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