Tracking technologies

Tracking migratory birds provides us with information about the places where birds nest, stop to rest and refuel, and spend the non-nesting months. We can examine the habitats they use, the threats they face on the ground, and how we can work together to help them throughout their journeys.


Researchers use a variety of technologies to unravel the mysteries of migration. Explore them with us!


Motus Wildlife Tracking System connects researchers around world in the study of wildlife movements. A program of Birds Canada, the system is helping us to learn more about many migratory species, such as the Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis).  Watch this video to learn more >>


Icarus: This international effort uses satellite imagery to track the patterns of birds and other wildlife. Because the tracker is located on the International Space Station, it can help us study bird migrations and better understand how natural hazards and human activity affect bird populations.


Bird Banding: Bird researchers use metal bands, each with a unique code, to identify individuals. Each time a banded bird is recaptured, we learn about its health, age, and movements.


Weather Radar: We use weather radar every day to detect the movement of drops of rain. It can also detect the movements of birds and other wildlife, especially large flocks as they land in one location or take off from one location.


Light-level Geolocators: These tracking devices use daylight to estimate location. From sunrise/sunset data, the relative time of noon and midnight is used to determine the locations of birds. However, in the shade of a tree canopy, it can be difficult for the device to determine sunrise and sunset times. Because they are lightweight and have a long battery life, light-level geolocators are an excellent option for studying long-distance movements.


Global Positioning System Tags: Satellite receivers attached to birds receive signals from satellites that orbit the Earth and provide the accurate location of the bird. This is the same system your cell phone uses. Researchers only need to capture the bird once to affix the tag. There are 31 GPS satellites in orbit that provide highly accurate location data. You use this data daily on your smartphone to navigate to a store or to check traffic. A GPS tag radios a bird’s location to a receiver, located either on a tower or on another satellite. 


Citizen Science: Everyone can be part of our efforts to learn about bird migrations by sharing their observations. Here are a few programs you can join:

  • iNaturalist: Share your observations with other naturalists and discuss your findings.
  • Journey North: Hummingbirds are too small to carry tags, so your observations are an important part of our understanding of their migrations.
  • Hummingbird Highway: Share your research, pollinator garden, and hummingbird – focused education activities on a map, so that we can make connections to hummingbird conservation.
  • eBird: Your bird sightings contribute to our awareness of migration across the globe, plus you can keep a list of every bird you see, and where you see it.