New tower connects NC barrier island to global bird tracking network

Cape Fear Audubon, Audubon North Carolina and UNC Wilmington partner to install Motus tower at Lea Island.

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A new tower installed at Lea Island north of Wilmington will help track migratory birds on the North Carolina coast, thanks to a partnership between Cape Fear Audubon, Audubon North Carolina, and UNC Wilmington’s Danner Lab.

The Cape Fear Audubon chapter donated $5,000 for the structure, known as a Motus wildlife tracking tower. Audubon staff and researchers from the Danner lab installed it this spring. Standing 20 feet tall, the rig sports antennae that will pick up radio signals from any bird with a radio tag that flies within nine miles of the island.

“This was a team effort that will help us better understand how birds move through our coast,” said Jim Nesbit, Cape Fear Audubon chapter president. “It also helps fill in the gaps in a global network of bird data.”

“Birds connect our coastal sanctuaries in North Carolina to places across the hemisphere,” said Lindsay Addison, coastal biologist at Audubon NC. “This tower will give us the details, letting us know when a bird that’s traveled from, say, Hudson Bay or South America has stopped over right here on our coast.”

Lea Island is an undeveloped barrier island south of Topsail Beach, part of Audubon’s coastal sanctuary network and an officially designated Important Bird Area. The new tower now connects the island to the global Motus network.

Motus is especially critical in studying smaller birds fitted with nanotags, which are tiny radio tracking devices often as light as an aspirin tablet. Nanotags provide an alternative to the heavier satellite radio transmitters researchers use to track movements of larger species such as hawks and owls.

Data from the nano tags is first received by a ground-based transmitter, rather than an orbiting satellite. When a radio tagged bird flies nearby, it sends a ping to the Motus tower. The data is automatically uploaded to the internet, where anyone can view it.

You can read more about the Motus Tower and Audubon NC by clicking here to go to the webpage.

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