How to track migratory birds near you

May 1, 2020, 12:58 p.m.
Male ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder
Photo: Steve Byland/Shutterstock

With so many people spending a lot more time at home, many have become obsessed with nature. In addition to Netflix and social media, bird-watching has become a popular pastime. As we fill up our feeders, we eagerly awaiting the feathered arrivals.

Some birds are year-round residents, while others are migratory, often traveling a long distance to make a temporary home in a different climate.

You might like the surprise of seeing which birds show up near you. Or you can use these migration tools to plot the paths of various species to see when you might expect them.

BirdCast

Created by scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdCast offers real-time migration maps showing where birds are and in which direction they're going. The site's forecasts are based on 23 years of radar observations combined with weather forecasts.

"It’s not realistic for even the most serious bird-watchers to be outside watching birds all the time, and because migrants may be there one day and gone the next, using the maps in conjunction with each other can help people plan when to prioritize and maximize their bird-watching opportunities," writes MNN's Tom Oder in a deeper dive into the BirdCast site.

"The heart of understanding the site is pairing the live map with the forecasts maps," Kyle Horton, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Lab of Ornithology, told Oder. "If you can see a forecast that shows that three days out it is supposed to be great conditions for migratory birds arriving, you can schedule around that. If, for example, you know on Thursday that Saturday is setting up to be a great night for migration, you could validate this Saturday night by looking at the live migration map. If things are developing as predicted, that’s likely to be a great time to observe some of these birds as they make landfall in your surrounding area."

eBird

An online repository for bird-watching observations run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is a citizen science project that claims to have more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by members around the world. You can use the site to track specific species or discover birds and hotspots near you.

In March, eBird released 500 animated maps showing where hundreds of species of migratory birds travel throughout the Western Hemisphere. The information includes how their numbers vary with habitat, geography, and time of year.

"Building upon more than 750 million observations submitted to eBird provides a whole new way of seeing biodiversity," said Steve Kelling, co-director of Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab, in a statement. "Now, we not only have an idea of where to find a bird, but where that bird is most abundant as well. The detail and information in the animations is breathtaking."

Hummingbird Central

If you're specifically intrigued by flittering, colorful hummingbirds, you can chart their path with help from Hummingbird Central. The interactive migration map includes first sighting data from citizen scientist contributors throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada. The site tracks a dozen hummingbird species and in 2019 included more than 10,000 first-sighting reports.

In addition to maps, the site shares lots of hummingbird information about these fascinating fliers. For example, "During migration, a hummingbird's heart beats up to 1,260 times a minute, and its wings flap 15 to 80 times a second. To support this high energy level, a hummingbird will typically gain 25-40% of their body weight before they start migration in order to make the long trek over land, and water. They fly alone, often on the same path they have flown earlier in their life, and fly low, just above tree tops or water. Young hummingbirds must navigate without parental guidance."

So go ahead and fill those feeders. Those guys are going to be hungry.