How does Motus work? Part II in a five-part series

For over 50 years, traditional Radio-telemetry has been the cornerstone of tracking migratory studies. This is very useful to track movements of small animals with high temporal and spatial precision. But it also has its limitations because some of these former radio-telemetries may be quite impossible to use on tiny insects, animals or birds, because of their weight and size. Hence automated receivers, along with recent miniaturization and digital coding of tags, have improved the utility of radio-telemetry by allowing many individuals to be tracked continuously and simultaneously across broad landscapes. Tiny, digitally encoded tags (also called nanotags), are safely attached to an animal, insect, or bird, and these nanotags send out a unique identifying signal approximately every 30 seconds. If tagged animals fly by a strategically placed Motus tower with antenna tuned to the same frequency as the nanotags within a 6-mile distance approximately, the tag is automatically detected. Detection range depends on many factors such as tower height, antenna type and orientation, terrain, vegetation, and height of the animal relative to the tower.  

Overview of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Source: www.motus.org & Birds Canada

Motus Receiving Stations and Towers:

Receiving Stations are equipped with a high-accuracy GPS sensor that allows for precise time synchronization and geolocation of the receiver. Automated radio towers can be arranged to track tagged animals or insects and are custom built in a variety of styles depending on their use. But essentially it consists of:

1) an automated radio receiver,

2) one to six antennas of various types can be used

3) the tower (or support structure which is also called the mast) structure and,

4) a power source either through an existing power source or through solar power for remote locations.  

 Photos of various Motus Tower Stations. Source: www.motus.org & Birds Canada

Antenna Receivers can accommodate multiple antennas tuned to a specific frequency and may be mounted to existing structures such as tall buildings, cell phone towers, or self-standing towers. The various components of the Antenna include the ‘elements’ which are little horizontal bars. The ‘boom’ is the center bar which basically holds the elements at a specified distance. Different antennas are designed to pick up different radio frequencies. There’s no electricity on the antenna, but rather the size of the antenna, the length of the elements, and the spacing between the elements on the boom create a parabola much like a tuning fork that is tuned into a specific frequency. These antennas do not send out any frequency or ping. Rather these are “passive” receiving devices for only the specific radio frequency.

Dense arrays of radio towers can be used to track local movements and if animals are detected by multiple towers, can be used to provide precise movement data. Coordinated arrays of automated radio towers, such as those organized by Bird Studies Canada’s Motus Wildlife Tracking System, allow for tracking of animals at continental scales. Animals passing within range of these towers are automatically detected and detection data is logged on to the receiver and passed on to the researchers that tagged that animal. Detection data can be downloaded directly from the receiver unit. Alternatively, towers can be connected to wired or wireless internet, or communicate through cell phone technology, which allows for around the clock remote access to detection data. As research and tracking technologies continue to improve, the international connectivity and migration ecology of birds and other tagged wildlife is better understood. The costs to install a receiver station vary and depends on the number and type of antennas. It also depends on whether existing infrastructure can be used to mount antennas, and the power source. Information about receiver deployments, including geographic coordinates, start and anticipated end date and time, and antenna configuration and orientation, is registered in the Motus database, and made available to all users. 

Stay tuned for Series Article Part III: Nanotags and how they work

Motus Wildlife Tracking System Background: What is Motus?

Part I in a five-part series

Motus is a relatively recent program in Belize. But what is Motus? What is it used for? Who uses Motus, and how is it beneficial? These are possibly just a few questions which may come to anyone’s mind upon hearing the word for the first time. There is a lot to learn about Motus – how highly beneficial it is to the scientific community, to private landowners and managers, to stewards and caretakers of protected areas, to forest and nature reserve managers, to educators and students, and even to the local populace. It is a tool which provides meaningful data on current and future migratory ecological wildlife studies.  Such data can be utilized by decision makers, especially in government circles, to help prioritize areas for wildlife protection. In general, Motus (the Latin word for movement), is an international collaborative network of researchers that use automated radio telemetry to simultaneously track and study the migratory movements of birds, bats, and large insects at local, regional, and hemispheric scales. Therefore, this article aims to look at Motus in a bit more detail.

Motus was developed by Bird Studies Canada in 2014. Funding and support was provided by Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant, in partnership with Acadia University, (Nova Scotia), Western University (Ontario), the University of Guelph (Ontario), and other collaborating researchers and organizations. 

In March 2023, BFREE became a part of this international network by installing two antennas to the 145′ radio tower at BFREE adjacent to the dining room (Lat. 16.5551o Lon. 88.7065o). Prior to the BFREE installation, only one Motus Tower existed in Belize and this tower was installed at Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (TREES) on May 2022 in Central Belize (Lat. 17.0526o Lon. 88.5654o). Following the BFREE installation, another Motus Tower was installed at the Lamanai Field Research Station in Northern Belize (Lat. 17.7521o Lon. 88.6538o). The other two closest Motus Towers to Belize are in neighboring Guatemala. The yellow dots indicate where Motus towers have been installed and activated in Belize and Guatemala.  (Figs. 1 & 2).

Motus continues to expand globally. For example, in the USA along the Pacific Coast flyways, Motus towers are being installed along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The towers in these areas are collecting data on shore-bird movements such as Western Sandpiper, Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover, and Dunlin. Interestingly, all four species except for the Dunlin, are regular winter visitors along Belize’s shoreline and Cayes, while the Dunlin is considered a “transient” species but also uses the coastline and Cayes as stopover sites while migrating to countries further south. Such data continues to provide valuable information on migratory pathways, stopover sites, breeding, and wintering habitats of these birds. Researchers, scientists, and biologists working in this region are also working with partners in Mexico on Birds of Conservation Concern such as the Pacific Red Knot, one of the longest distance flyers of any shorebird. Interestingly, Belize has very few records of this species along the northern coastline.

Western Sandpiper is a shore-bird sometimes spotted in the Bladen River and is one that Motus technology is tracking. Image courtesy of Cornell Lab Photo Library of Birds

Data collected from the Motus Towers detects the different estuaries where the Pacific Red Knot migrates, how they’re using estuaries, and how long they stay there. In 2022, several Motus stations were installed in Puerto Rico in partnership with Birds Caribbean. The Caribbean Motus Collaboration (CMC) was formed to expand the Motus network in the Caribbean as part of the Landbird Monitoring Project. Recently, through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) grant program, the international collaboration expanded and funded additional Motus station installations and research across the Americas, including the first Motus bird monitoring network in Mexico.

During its first three years, Motus expanded to include more than 120 independent research projects, and comprised over 325 active receiver stations across 11 countries and 3 continents. This rich and comprehensive data set included detections of individuals during all phases of the annual cycle (breeding, migration, and non-breeding).

According to a recent article written by Rosalie Wetzel and published in May 2023, Motus has grown to include more than 1,200 stations across 31 countries. Again, the yellow dots indicate Motus stations throughout the world. Motus is indeed the largest international collaborative research network that brings together organizations and individuals to facilitate research and education on the ecology and conservation of flying migratory species.

Most of the information and graphics used in this article were obtained from the following sources:

  • Birds Canada. 2019. Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Port Rowan, Ontario. Available: http://www.motus.org. Accessed: October 2, 2023.
  • Taylor, et.al. 2017. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System: a collaborative research network to enhance the understanding of wildlife movement. Accessed: October 4, 2023.
  • Rosalie Wetzel. May 31, 2023. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Motus Stations: Tracking Migrations from Coast to Coast. Accessed: October 5, 2023.
  • Michael Rogers summary of BFREE Motus Tower. October 2023.

Stay tuned for Series Article Part II: How does Motus work?

BFREE Installs Songbird Migration Monitoring Antennas

by Michael Rogers

This March, BFREE proudly joined as a collaborator in the International Motus Network! Motus, which is Latin for the word ‘movement,’ is the future in migratory ecology studies. Scientists throughout the world are now afixing tiny radio transmitters to their species of interest, be at a thrush, warbler, or even a bat or imperiled monarch butterfly. These miniature devices send out a unique identifying pulse every 30 seconds, and if they pass within six miles of a host antenna station, the tag is automatically detected and uploaded into a public database, not just for the benefit of those scientists, but rather for anybody interested in the health and welfare of our migratory species.

This newer technology is groundbreaking because it is no longer necessary to recapture the bird in order to get the device and download it into a computer. Instead, the data collection is automated. However, if there are no receiving antennas on the ground, there is nothing to receive and record that migrating species.

Just in time for spring migration, I traveled to Belize with the missing components of the BFREE Motus Antenna. Together I worked with Mario Teul, Pedro Witz and Heather Barrett (who was collaborating from the US at the time) to get the BFREE computers set up to receive and manage the data. Mario then worked on assembling the antenna while Jacob Marlin and Tom Pop prepared for Jacob to climb the tower. Jacob free climbed the 140 feet on the communication tower above the BFREE office, and through brilliant rope and poly engineering, he installed the two antennas!

BFREE hosts only the second Motus receiving station in all of Belize!

We are proud to do our part and help scientists see a more complete picture of migration patterns. With Motus, scientists are now see a more accurately calculate migration timing, key stopover sites, and even to a certain extent evaluate site fidelity both in their breeding grounds and here in their overwintering grounds. This new information will help guide future conservation practices.

With great thanks to Birds Canada, who oversees the International Motus network and who also generously donated the antennas. For more information on Motus, go to www.motus.org

Special Thanks to the Author

BFREE would like to give special thanks to Michael Rogers. After traveling to BFREE in January to volunteer with his partner Rebecca, Michael took on the not-so-easy task of determining why our current Motus station wasn’t functioning. Through diligent research and support, Michael generously funded the purchase of many of the key elements needed and returned to Belize to support the installation at BFREE. Michael’s enthusiasm, initiative, and problem-solving skills made this Motus tower possible for us and we are supremely grateful!

Michael (pictured left) with the staff of Runaway Creek Nature Reserve, deploying Motus trackers on migratory songbirds with school children from Mahogany Heights.

Agami Heron Study

Since 2016, I have served on the Agami Heron Working Group. This is a group of scientists and conservationists from throughout Central and South America working together to better understand a very secretive and therefore under-documented bird. My role is to ensure that we collect and submit annual nesting data on a small colony of Agami herons. Because the lagoon acts as nesting habitat for Boat-billed herons and Anhinga, we include them in our observation data.

In order to minimize disturbance of the colony, we make infrequent, short visits to the lagoon. Our goal is to determine if nesting has begun for the Agamis. The Boat-billed herons and Anhingas generally nest earlier in the year – March through May. Around the time that they finish their season, individual Agami herons begin to arrive and appear to investigate the area but do not stay.

In late June or early July, pairs of Agamis arrive and begin rebuilding their nests. They use the same nest trees and often the same nests as the Boat-billed herons. They do not appear to use the Anhinga nests which are usually situated higher in the nest tree.

Data Collection

The instructions for documenting the Agami nesting habits are straight-forward, but the timing of their nesting always has made the process a bit tricky. Our data collection begins when the birds are on the nest; however, we can’t visit too frequently. So, it is sometimes difficult to identify the most accurate start date. When we observe the birds on the nest, we document the date, number of nests, number of birds, and other habitat data and then quickly and quietly depart. We return ten days later to do another count.

When eggs begin to hatch and hatchlings grow, we continue to our count: focusing on number of eggs and number of hatchlings. We also look for evidence of parental care, possible predation, and growth stages. At the end of each successful year of data collection, reports are submitted to the Working Group for review.

About the Agami Heron Working Group

The Agami Heron Working Group established an action plan for the conservation of the Agami Heron in 2015. The plan can be accessed in EnglishFrench or Spanish. The Group will continue to provide an information exchange and coordination point for those interested in research and conservation of the species. 

Cacao Fellow, Mark Canti, Explains the Process of Adopting a Tree from the BFREE Farm:

By Mark Canti

Hello, my name is Mark Canti. I’m the BFREE Cacao Fellow, and I oversee the cacao adoption program at BFREE in collaboration with the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund. I’m always very excited when I learn that a new tree has been adopted from our farm, and I am eager to tag the newly adopted tree. 

I first create a personalized tag for the tree by engraving the adopter’s name or the adopter’s chosen honoree on an aluminum tag. Then I grab my gear, including the newly created tag, a GPS device, and my camera. Next, I need to select the perfect tree. I’m looking for healthy trees that have at least 70% shade and are at least 1-1.5 meters tall. Once the tree has been selected, carefully tie the tag to a tree branch and record the GPS coordinates. Finally, comes my favorite part of the process. I’m very passionate about photography, and I really enjoy the opportunity to photograph each tree. My dream is to capture wildlife such as a beautiful bird like a warbler when I’m taking each photo. I like that the pictures I take can help the new adopters feel as close to being on our beautiful farm as possible. 

I’m very proud to be part of the Adopt a Tree program, and I would like to thank everyone who has adopted a tree from our farm so far. I hope I have the opportunity to select and photograph a tree for you! 

If you would like to adopt a tree from the BFREE Farm, please visit the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund’s website and select HCP#11.

Adopt a Cacao Tree – HEIRLOOM CACAO PRESERVATION FUND (hcpcacao.org)

Congratulations Drs. James Rotenberg and Vibeke Olson on your retirement!

Vibeke Olson and Jamie Rotenberg

Congratulations to long-time BFREE supporters, field course leaders, researchers, and adventurers, Drs. Jamie Rotenberg and Vibeke Olson on their recent retirement from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Extraordinary husband and wife team, Jamie and Vibeke, have been visiting BFREE for nearly two decades as professors bringing field courses, as researchers, with their graduate students, and as supporters. 

Their impact on BFREE has been significant. BFREE is a better place because of Jamie and Vibeke. So from your BFREE family, congratulations! We look forward to this next chapter in your lives and can’t wait to share in a few of your upcoming adventures.


Messages from your BFREE Friends and Family:

Judy Dourson and Jamie on a UNCW-BFREE Field Course in 2007. Photo Credit: Lisa Ramsden

From Judy and Dan Dourson, BFREE Staff Members 2006 – 2013:

We first met Jamie (Dr. Rotenberg to most) in December of 2006 in our first few months as field station managers of BFREE.  He arrived along with close friend and cave diver, Sam Meachum, to lead the first of many expeditions into the Bladen Nature Reserve to establish survey protocols for what would be an extensive, long-term study of neotropical migratory birds and the signature species, the Harpy Eagle.  Jamie’s tenacity and determination were on full display when he limped into BFREE after one particularly grueling expedition, hiking over 8 hours through trail-less, brutal terrain to reach BFREE only to discover a very painful broken collarbone.  Dr. Rotenberg’s tireless commitment to the Avian Monitoring and Harpy Eagle study produced numerous grants to fund the study.

By far our most elaborate scientific collaboration with Jamie was in 2016 when Dan became a co-investigator for a National Geographic Waitt Foundation Grant that focused on the potential relationship between land snails (Dan’s research focus) and Harpy Eagles.  With over 30 participants, the expedition was a technological feat that entailed creating a mobile lab to process snails, portable generators hauled deep into the jungle to provide power for advanced drone technology and elite cavers from Poland who dropped into a 300-foot sinkhole during the expedition.

Jamie hiking through the Bladen River during the 2016 National Geographic Waitt expedition. Photo credit: Kasia Biernacka

While Dan’s interactions with Jamie would revolve around their shared passion for the biodiversity of this exceptional region of the world, my time spent with Dr. Rotenberg centered on the development and implementation of seven field courses.  In true fashion, Jamie always knew how to shake things up and challenged me to expand my own horizons as Director of Educational Programs at BFREE leading to new field course locations like Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary or Tikal in Guatemala. I met Jamie’s lovely and spunky life companion, Vibeke, while working with them to plan and execute an innovative course for biology and art/architecture majors focused on the art and architecture of Maya archaeological sites and structures and the biodiversity found around these anthropogenic structures.  Another creative collaboration with Dr. Rotenberg focused on Environmental Psychology with both environmental sciences and psychology majors. 
 
Our field course adventures were always informative, stimulating, sometimes challenging, and full of surprises but it was those challenges that strengthened the bonds of what is sure to be a lifelong friendship.  It is with great delight that Dan and I welcome them into the wonderful world of “retirement”.  We look forward to learning more about what new adventures await and how we can participate. To quote my comedian spouse, Dan, “After all, snails and birds rule, everything else drools!”


Jamie and Jacob Marlin proudly hold the 2012 Partners in Flight Award for Bird Conservation that was awarded to BFREE.

From Jacob Marlin, BFREE Executive Director:

From the first time Jamie came to BFREE back almost two decades ago, he has played a key role in so many of our conservation programs. From leading our bird research and monitoring efforts, including the rediscovery of a wild breeding population of Harpy eagles, to training young Belizeans to be bird biologists. His passion for teaching brought hundreds of students from the USA to BFREE on study abroad programs for more than a decade. In 2014, BFREE was honored to have Jamie join the board of directors, where he currently serves as vice-president. Over the many years, Jamie and Vibeke have continued to support BFREE in countless ways, always believing in us and our mission. They are both true partners in conservation. Congratulations to this dynamic husband and wife team!


Jamie examines a bird for data collection during a research trip to Belize.

From Marlyn Cruz Sierra, BFREE Staff Member 2012 – 2014:

 Working along with people who share an incredible passion for what they do is one of those experiences that you will always cherish. For me, Dr. James is that person. He transmitted this passion and love of his work and projects when I participated as an avian technician at BFREE, so it never really felt like “work.” He was always very communicative and incredibly organized. He was unselfish with the wealth of knowledge he possessed, willing to give you an opportunity for growth, and cheering you on while you accepted new challenges.


Gato Pop center and Jamie top right along with the Harpy Avian Team in 2008 at BFREE.

From Liberato “Gato” Pop, BFREE Staff Member 2006 – 2015:

I would like to say that Dr. Jamie has been a great mentor for me. He has guided me through numerous trainings to become an expert avian researcher. He has always encouraged me to continue what I love and that is working with nature.

I want to thank Dr. Jamie and Dr. Vibeke for their support of our bird banding project for the past years at BFREE.


Jamie and Vibeke pose with students from UNCW during their BFREE Field Course.

From Heather Barrett, BFREE Deputy Director:

I admire how well Jamie and Vibeke have participated in each other’s professional and personal interests over the years. Although they have focused their careers on different continents, they remain a strong team supporting one another by each being engaged in the pursuits of the other. Jamie picked Central America and the sciences for his research while Vibeke chose Europe and the arts for hers. Instead of allowing their differences to divide them, they used them as an opportunity to explore the world together. With that model in mind, I’d say the sky is the limit for their shared retirement. Congratulations, Jamie and Vibeke!


Jamie and Lisa reunited after a decade at a 2017 BFREE Fundraiser in DC

From Lisa Ramsden, UNCW Alum and BFREE Field Course Participant 2007:

Dr. Rotenberg fostered my deep love of tropical ecosystems and birds through his classes at UNCW. I am so thankful that I particpated in his Environmental Psychology course that took students to Belize and that I was able to visit BFREE. It was a truly eye-opening experience for me. I feel so lucky to have taken a variety of classes with him and to have gotten the wonderful experience to intern with him on his Painted Bunting project. Congratulations on your retirement, wishing you all the best!


James and Jamie in Belize

From James Abbott, UNCW Alum, BFREE Field Course Participant and Assistant Researcher:

Congratulations Dr. Rotenberg on your retirement. You have been an amazing mentor to me. I believe that even more than the knowledge, experience, and skills, you passed on to me; the biggest influence I carry with me everyday is your attitude toward life and teaching demeanor and style. Those have and continue to shape my career in environmental education. Not to mention my unofficial role as the painted bunting ambassador to all of southeast VA – our region’s newest breeding bird. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for me and I hope we can meet up again someday at BFREE and enjoy a field station harpy eagle together.


BFREE Birding Club T-Shirts For Sale!

You asked, we answered! BFREE is partnering with Bonfire to create and sell t-shirts that support our conservation programs. Our first t-shirt design is in honor of the BFREE Birding Club and sports a beautiful Rufous-tailed jacamar. Anyone can join the BFREE Birding Club! The best part – you can pick from five different styles of shirts and nearly twenty different colors! Profits from each sale will directly support BFREE’s conservation programs. Shirts are mailed every 4-weeks directly from the Bonfire warehouse. If you have a question about shipping please do not hesitate to contact us!

Bird watching is the ultimate connector.

The BFREE Privately Protected Area is home to more than 80 species of migratory birds and hundreds of resident species. When we scour the branches for our feathered friends in Belize, we are reminded that some of them have migrated from your backyard to ours. Our location is critical for wildlife, and with your support, we can make a difference in protecting critical wild spaces for all of our furry, scaly, and feathered friends!

Restore Our Earth — Happy Earth Day!

The Bladen River at BFREE. Photo by Head Ranger, Sipriano Canti

Today marks what is now the most widely observed secular holiday across the globe, Earth Day! Celebrated April 22nd annually, organizations and individuals come together to demonstrate support for environmental protection. This year’s earthday.org theme is “Restore Our Earth.” The theme rejects the notion that mitigation or adaptation are the only ways to address climate change but that it is up to every one of us to Restore Our Earth. 

“Restore” is not a new theme for us at BFREE; in fact, it is a significant theme to all that we do. 

Restoring tropical rainforest. Our cacao-based agroforestry program was created as a strategy to conserve and restore tropical rainforests in Belize. 

Restoring watersheds. BFREE has partnered with the Monkey River Watershed Association working to conserve and restore the integrity of the entire Monkey River Watershed. 

Restoring habitats. Through extensive management and protection of the BFREE reserve, our rangers are restoring habitats to ensure BFREE remains a hotspot for biodiversity. 

Restoring wildlife. Our Hicatee Conservation and Research Center is restoring local populations through captive-breeding and release programs. 

Our success in restoring wildlife and wildlands is because of our relentless stewardship, innovative strategies, and your support. As we celebrate our 25th Earth Day at BFREE this year, we know that there is still plenty of work to be done – but together, we can Restore Our Earth. 

Happy Earth Day! 

BFREE’s Bounty of Birds

For the past three years, BFREE has had Harpy eagle visitors in late February. So that means we are spending a lot of time looking up! Scouring the tops of trees like Ceiba and Prickly Yellow where we’ve seen them previously perched in hopes that 2021 will be good to us. We’ve recorded 20 separate observations within the BFREE reserve since the first one in September 2016. The most recent was by Sipriano Canti last November.

To us, it is spectacular to witness this enormous and awe-inspiring raptor. We are reminded that having Harpies around means that BFREE and the Maya Mountains remain healthy and intact enough to support this top predator.

And the Harpy isn’t the only bird indicator that the BFREE reserve is an oasis for wildlife. Our Ranger team has diligently recorded Scarlet Macaw sightings on an almost daily basis since August 3, 2020.

We don’t want the rangers to have all of the fun though! So some of the staff have started to document birds using both ebird.org and printed observation sheets. As a 2021 challenge, Nelly Cadle and I began recording a list every day. Doing this helps us to become better birders while also documenting which birds inhabit BFREE. We often ask Tom Pop for help with IDs because he is excellent at identifying birds by song and calls. Lenardo Ash has also become interested in birding and has started recording sightings with us. Finally, we can always count on Sipriano Canti to snap pics and record bird observations around BFREE because he and his ranger team are constantly on the move and have the greatest opportunity to spot amazing birds and other wildlife.

Being at BFREE nurtures our love for this country’s incredible wildlife and inspires us to continue our role as stewards of this rare and spectacular place.

Below are photos BFREE staff took of birds at BFREE in 2020 and 2021.

Let’s Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day in Belize! 

Join BFREE in the great world-wide celebration of migratory birds during the entire month of March!

Below are educational resources and additional information for you to use in your classrooms. We encourage celebratory events throughout the month of March such as educational presentations, cleanups, and other habitat restorations as well as bird walks, and creative art activities

Educational Resources:

Coloring Page
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
Make a Bird Mask
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
Bird Count Data Form
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
BFREE Bird List
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
WMBD Facebook Photo
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
Migration Game
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
Wings of Hope Film
CLICK TO VIEW

Classroom Activity Ideas:

  • Host or join a trash clean up, this can be done around your school, in your community or along the beach! Bonus challenge, have class competitions to collect the most trash or create an art project with the plastic collected.
  • Download the bird count and bring your class outside to record data from around your schoolyard.
  • Have a school-wide plastic-free challenge week. Challenge your students to go a full week without using any single-use plastic at school! 
  • Host a movie party, watch Wing of Hope, Yochi, or Birds of Belize to get to know more about the incredible birds in our country.
  • Share Migratory Bird Day in Belize on social media! Share the Facebook banner or post on Instagram and tag @bfreebz so we can see your activities!

Scheduled Events:

  • February 22: “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution” Presentation to students of Natural Resource Management from Independence Junior College
  • March 1 – 31:  Join BFREE in celebrating World Migratory Bird Day in Belize the entire month of March
  • March 4 – 6: BFREE presentations and activities for Primary and High Schools in Independence Village
  • March 14: Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) and Next Gen Croc Club will host a beach clean up in Seine Bright

What is World Migratory Bird Day:

World Migratory Bird Day in the Americas is coordinated by the organization, Environment for the Americas, which promotes bilingual educational materials and information about birds and bird conservation. Environment for the Americas celebrates the migration of nearly 350 bird species between their nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Now in its 26th year, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) has grown from a one-day event to hundreds of projects and programs year-round and encourage individuals and organizations to join them in selecting their own date to celebrate WMBD. BFREE has selected the entire month of March to celebrate WMBD in Belize and we invite you to join us!

We are inspired by the phase-out plan to ban single-use plastic in Belize that became effective on 15 January 2020. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Immigration, Hon. Goodwin Hulse, signed into law the Environmental Protection (Pollution from Plastics) Regulations, 2020 that is set to reduce plastic and styrofoam pollution through the phasing out of single-use plastics in Belize as a control measure to protect the terrestrial and marine environment from harmful plastic contamination.

With this in mind, we at BFREE are celebrating WMBD by embracing the message, “Protect birds: Be the solution to plastic pollution.” 

We invite you, our partners country-wide to join BFREE in tackling the challenges of plastic pollution in the environment by sharing with your classrooms the many ways that plastic can harm birds and by offering some ideas for ways that we can reduce our use of plastic items.


The Truth Behind Plastic Pollution:

Since plastic was introduced in the 1950s, an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons have been created. Only about 9% of plastic materials are recycled, leaving more than 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics in landfills or polluting the environment. “One of the main types of debris in the marine environment today is plastic. We know fishing gear, plastic bags, bottle caps, utensils, and other plastic pieces are entangling and being ingested by birds. Plastics harm birds in marine environments, as well as other habitats. As human use of plastics grows, so too does the amount of plastic pollution that invades most ecosystems around the globe. “Plastic debris such as fishing line poses a serious risk of entangling birds, which can entrap them and cause serious injury,” says Dr. Susan Bonfield, Director of Environment for the Americas. Migratory birds also have a high risk of directly ingesting plastics. It’s been estimated that 80% of sea and shorebirds have consumed foam, pellets, thread, and other items. In addition, small bits of plastic, known as microplastics, pose a hazard to birds and smaller organisms throughout the food chain due to the toxins they concentrate in the environment.

The Spectacular Journey of Birds:

In addition to raising awareness about issues important to bird conservation, World Migratory Bird Day is also a celebration of the spectacular journeys that migratory birds take as they travel between nesting and non-breeding sites around the world. Global partners at the Convention on Migratory Species in Bonn, Germany recognize that “World Migratory Bird Day joins our voices as one for the protection of the birds we share. With raised awareness of threats such as plastic pollution to birds, it is our opportunity to take action by making changes that help birds, whether personal or more broadly.” Although WMBD is traditionally celebrated in Canada and the U.S. on the second Saturday in May, in reality every day is bird day, and programs, festivals, and other events occur throughout the year, whenever it works best for organizers—and the birds. “Ultimately, the goal of WMBD is to connect people to nature through birds,” says Miguel Matta, WMBD Coordinator in Latin America.


About BFREE:

The Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) operates a biological field station in the rainforest of southern Belize. Our mission is “to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize.” We strive to successfully integrate scientific research, environmental education,  conservation, and create sustainable development opportunities for alternative livelihoods for Belizeans.

About Environment for the Americas:

WMBD in the Americas is coordinated by Environment for the Americas, which provides bilingual educational materials and information about birds and bird conservation throughout the Americas. Their programs inspire children and adults to get outdoors, learn about birds, and take part in their conservation. To learn more about migratory bird habitats, download WMBD educational and promotional materials in Spanish and English, and search for activities planned in your area, visit http://www.migratorybirdday.org/

Miguel Matta, Latin America World Migratory Bird Day Coordinator, Environment for the Americas, Boulder, CO, USA. Email: mmatta@environmentamericas.org