Bird Tracking

Bird Tracking – report by Rob Millar

Of great importance to the survival of many species is when and where they travel throughout the year and throughout their lifetime. If a species disappears altogether from an area (extirpated), the knowledge of many things such as migration routes and food sources is lost. This is what has happened to the Trumpeter Swans which have been re-introduced into Ontario. It is hoped that they can find new routes and methods of survival to keep them alive in Ontario, Canada as they did when they were last here in the 1800’s. Fortunately for the Osprey, they have had a return to hopefully sustainable populations before this knowledge was lost to our Ontario birds. It is important to monitor migration of these birds so that their wellbeing can be tracked and maintained throughout their travels.

Friends Of The Osprey, Kawartha Lakes had tracking satellite transmitters installed onto 2 female Osprey in 2010 with the assistance of Bird Studies Canada. Although the signal was lost from one bird as it got to the Florida area, the other continued and we obtained valuable information about it’s migration to Brazil, South America each winter for a couple of years before it’s signal was also lost. The cost of this project was very high (satellite based system) and we are currently exploring the latest methods of bird tracking in the hopes that we might attempt to do it again. There are many methods and many companies supplying equipment for tracking. Here are some examples of newer methods and technologies (non-satellite systems).


Although not able to track individual birds, this new method is supplying an incredible amount of information for all species and it is important that as many people as possible are helping with this. Observations by individuals from around the world are reporting sightings and building a database that shows migration routes of all species throughout the year. With the advent of smartphones and all our internet devices, this is quickly becoming the biggest contributor to our knowledge of migratory routes and how mankind and weather affects them. Please do take time to learn about eBird and report what you see. Go to and create an account.


This relatively inexpensive method uses a small device known as a Geolocator. It is attached to the bird and each day stores the timing and amount of light. The device is later retrieved and the data analyzed giving a complete record of where and when it has traveled. This device works best with birds that return to the same nesting sites such as Osprey. Due to its low cost, this method allows many devices to be installed and even if not all are retrieved, can be very economical. One drawback to Geo Tagging is that the information is not transmitted live for constant monitoring. Due to the small size of these devices, many small birds have been tracked with this method and previously unknown migration routes discovered.


This is a quickly developing system that is being expanded so far throughout Ontario, Quebec, and New England areas. This is the description from the website

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System (Motus) comprises a network of coordinated automated radio telemetry towers that track the movements of small organisms throughout terrestrial environments. The purpose of Motus is to facilitate landscape-scale research and education on the ecology and conservation of migratory animals. It is a program of Bird Studies Canada (BSC) in partnership with Acadia University, Western University, the University of Guelph and all collaborating researchers and organizations.

As of early 2015, the array is comprised of over 200 automated VHF radio receiving stations, positioned from Hudson Bay, along the James Bay Coast, stretching from south-western Ontario to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, through the Maritime provinces and down the eastern seaboard to Virginia (click here to see a map of current receiver locations). A digital “nano-tag” tracking device is secured to an animal they can be detected in real-time up to 25 km away from any station. When combined, this array can track animals across a diversity of landscapes covering thousands of kilometres.

The data, which will comprise millions of individual records, are stored locally, and (optionally) transmitted back to a centralized data management system at BSC’s National Data Centre where data is filtered, archived, visualized, and disseminated. Researchers, decisions makers, non-government organizations, and the public can then query those data and examine the movements and behaviours of any species being tracked. This state-of-the-art system is the first of its kind in the world and will be open to all researchers and organizations.


Global System for Mobile communications… a fancy way for saying… cell phone text messaging. This method uses transmitters that send signals to existing cell phone towers. Although the devices (which include GPS for location) are still very expensive, the company Northstar has been charging a fraction of the cost of the devices in order to test this new technology (Cellular GPS GSM). The data will be saved and received when the bird gets close enough to a cell tower so may not be continuous. At full cost this method still costs thousands of dollars per bird per year, not much less than the satellite technology we used previously, however may be a good way to go if the price is reduced enough.

With the help of our supporters and fundraising, Friends Of The Osprey, Kawartha Lakes hopes to be able to track more Osprey if at all possible using one of the above methods.

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