Data Reveals the Natural Wonder of Bird Migration

Itineraries of Migratory Birds Are Revealed in Unprecedented Detail

Reading Time: 2 minutes

There are seven wonders of the world, but after today you can say there are eight, including the natural phenomenon of bird migration.

Researchers combining what bird watchers see with what satellites see from space reveal the itineraries of migratory birds.

The eBird program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the largest biodiversity citizen-science project in the world, released more than 500 animated maps spanning the entire Western Hemisphere.

Maps Shed New Light on Bird Migration

The maps show in fine detail where hundreds of species of migratory birds travel and how their numbers vary with habitat, geography, and time of year.

The above animation for Barn Swallow is using eBird data to show where the species may be found at any time of the year.

“Building upon more than 750 million observations submitted to eBird provides a whole new way of seeing biodiversity,” says Steve Kelling, co-director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab.

He says not only do they know where to find a bird, but they know where that bird is most abundant.

The detail and information in the animations are breathtaking.

The eBird science team used five years of observations from 179,297 bird watchers across the Western Hemisphere, creating these new visualizations.

Bird Migration Maps are More Than Eye-Candy

Combining human observations for 610 species with NASA satellite imagery of land cover, land use, and water, along with nighttime light data from NOAA, these visualizations are much more than eye-candy. 

“The detailed information coming from observations submitted by bird watchers around the world is a game-changer,” says Amanda Rodewald, Garvin Professor and co-director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab.

The data shows researchers week to week where species occur and helps guide more flexible conservation solutions so that they can readily accommodate human and ecological needs.

Canada Warbler by James Hully/Macaulay Library
Canada Warbler by James Hully/Macaulay Library

The new eBird animated maps show movements and abundance of birds through the Americas as they travel to and from their breeding grounds.

For example, you can see Canada Warblers move from concentrated wintering locations in the Andes in South America to their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.

During spring migration, the Gulf Coast of Texas, a key stopover and refueling point for Canada Warblers, lights up purple indicating a large concentration of Canada Warblers.

In the fall, Canada Warblers slowly make their way south traveling through Mexico and Central America before settling in the Andes.


Bird Migration Maps Key for Conservation Efforts

The new animated maps are publicly available for researchers, educators, and conservationists to help inform conservation actions.

Citizen-science data can help answer any number of questions about where and when species may benefit most from conservation efforts.

And as more people around the world report what birds they see, the eBird science team can build global models to show the interconnectedness of birdlife and guide bird conservation everywhere.


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