Willistown Conservation Trust, Inc.:
Tracking Birds to Save Them and Their Habitats
Willistown Conservation Trust (WCT) preserves and manages the open land and rural character, as well as the scenic, recreational, historic, agricultural, and natural resources of the Willistown, Pennsylvania, area. It shares these unique resources with individuals of all ages and backgrounds to inspire, educate, and help them develop a lifelong commitment to the land and the natural world. The group also oversees a nationally recognized bird conservation program that includes bird-banding, monitoring, and habitat restoration.
In early October, Science magazine reported widespread population declines of birds during the past half-century, resulting in the cumulative loss of billions of breeding birds across a wide range of species—rare, threatened, and common—and habitats. Such a decline affects ecosystem integrity, conservation of wildlife more broadly, and policies associated with protection of birds and the native ecosystems on which they depend.
To better track bird migrations and populations, WCT helped create the Motus (Latin for “movement”) network, an international collaboration among hundreds of researchers in the U.S., Canada, and beyond in which scientists deploy tiny radio transmitters known as nanotags that are tracked across the landscape by automated receiver towers with directional antennas. Motus enables researchers to track songbirds, shorebirds, bats, and even monarch butterflies and dragonflies, all of which are too small for standard satellite telemetry. This technology is rapidly opening a window into the lives and travels of these animals and providing critical information to help preserve them.
Two years ago, the Foundation awarded a grant to WCT to expand the Motus network by adding 12 towers in western Pennsylvania. In 2019, a second grant of $150,000 will aid WCT in developing and implementing a strategic plan for expansion and maintenance of the Motus network, including a coordinator to implement the plan.