Discover how migrating birds connect the world


The black warbler is a small songbird that weighs about four cents. Some of them are yellow, streaked with black and white. Others brandish a touch of tangerine on the face and throat. These birds typically spend their summers in the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. In winter, they fly to South America, where they spend time in coffee plantations across Colombia, eating insect pests like spiders, aphids, ants, flies, beetles and beetles. mosquitoes alongside other migratory birds like tanagers and orioles.

“Migratory birds are really important,” says Jill Deppe, senior director of the Migratory Birds Initiative at the National Audubon Society. “In a single year, a single bird can eat enough insect pests to save a farmer 25 pounds of coffee per acre.”

Many birds make incredible journeys each year. The arctic tern makes globetrotting flights from pole to pole, covering 49,700 miles in a year; and the bar-tailed godwit holds the record for the longest non-stop flight at 7,000 miles.

It’s hard for most people to imagine what happens to birds after they leave city gardens and parks, where they go and what they do. But migratory birds serve as vital links between ecosystems on the other side of the world. And losing them would have a devastating ripple effect.

That’s why Deppe, Audubon and other researchers, institutions and technology providers have created an interactive map, called Bird Migration Explorer, helping non-scientific bird enthusiasts see a snapshot of the journeys these birds take and understand their impact. It went live this week and is available in English and Spanish. Visit it here.

Explorer lets you track bird migrations just as you would track flights departing from major airports. National Audubon Society

“What we’ve done with Bird Migration Explorer is we’ve brought together all the science to show people how they’re connected by migrating birds across the hemisphere, and show them the local actions they can take where they live have a hemispheric impact,” says Deppe, also emphasizing the importance of international collaboration in conservation efforts.

Summarizing all the information collected in an accessible and user-friendly tool was not an easy task. Here’s how they did it.

“We have a lot of different types of data. Some are very precise, others very coarse,” explains Deppe. This data covers general range maps that appear in birding field guides, genetic information, connectivity, seasonal abundance that birders have recorded in the Cornell Lab ebird database. of Ornithology and data from over 500 migration studies and over 280 institutions.

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“We’ve been working on this for four years, thinking about how to get different kinds of data into a single map that tells a story that makes the science understandable,” says Deppe. “We couldn’t do everything on one card. So you will see on the explorer that we have a series of maps.

These New Interactive Maps Reveal the Incredible Global Journeys of Migratory Birds
There are more than 400 species of birds with their own profiles. National Audubon Society

A card is centered on the movement of birds. It integrates tracking data and overlays it with abundance data, which shows how often a bird species is spotted in an area.

The second map is a connection map. It uses some tracking data and data on the locations of banded birds. “If you put a ring on a bird and someone finds it somewhere else, you have a connection between those two points,” Deppe says. This connection map also takes into account the genetic makeup of bird species. “It’s almost like, but for the birds,” she says. “If you catch a bird, you can look at its genetics and trace it to a different location and atmosphere.”

The third map shows where and when birds face the most conservation challenges, from climate change and light pollution to industrial and agricultural practices.

For starters, there are 458 species documented in Explorer. For 184 of them, the team collected data from the journeys of 9,000 individuals.

Consider the Bobolink, a common grassland species. The map shows the location of the bird at different times of the year. Some species are tracked with multiple technologies. For Bobolink, a few individual birds were tracked with a light-level geo-tracking device, but some were tracked using tags and a network of automated radio telemetry towers. The combination of the two allows researchers to see which specific areas are critical for birds and how they get there.

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“We’re starting to use this new technology to reveal the big picture. And we can observe these birds throughout the year. This tells us where the important places for migrating birds are,” says Deppe. “Each type of data is a unique piece of the puzzle.”

This kind of information in one place can also be used to influence local political decisions and raise awareness for personal action, Deppe says. If you know that many migrating birds pass through a large metropolitan area you live in, such as New York City, you might be more motivated to put up a pot of native plants on your balcony or advocate for the preservation of a local green space. park or ask high-rise building managers to turn off lights at night during peak migration season.

And because conservation decisions must be made based on the best available science, the team is committed to keeping data on the site as up-to-date as possible. “People are posting studies, tagging birds every day. There is new information coming out,” notes Deppe. To this end, they will continuously contact data sources and aim to update the explorer every two months, so that the visualizations bring new information. Some information, such as electronic bird sightings of abundance, will likely be updated on an annual basis, while tracking data may be updated more frequently. For scientists interested in working with specific data presented on the site, there is a data provider panel in the lower right corner that shows the citations for each map.

From an ecological point of view, migratory birds are above all good indicators of the state of the environment. They are like the canaries in a coal mine for climate change. “We lost a lot of birds,” says Deppe. But we can reverse the damage. “We’ve seen some groups like waterfowl not doing well and we’ve helped turn it around. It’s the only species that’s increased in the last few years.”


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