BirdCast proposed to provide real-time predictions of bird migrations: when they migrate, where they migrate, and how far they will be flying.
When BirdCast began, much like many conceptual frameworks in the early years of big data analysis and Internet and crowdsourcing, its potential and realities were far ahead of their time. But there was a strong belief and understanding that knowledge of migratory behavior would inspire birders and scientists as well as support decisions about conservation actions on the ground to mitigate numerous hazards birds face and to prevent deaths of millions of birds annually. Accurate migration models could have broad appeal and even broader application, allowing researchers to understand behavioral aspects of migration, how migration timing and pathways respond to changing climate, and whether linkages exist between variation in migration timing and subsequent changes in population size. Beginning in 2018, after many years of research and developments in machine learning, cloud-based computing, and big data analytics, the BirdCast site began to feature migration forecasts that predicted how many birds would be aloft over the continental US and live migration maps that reported how many birds actually took flight. These bird migration maps represented the culmination of a 20-year long vision, so too the beginnings of new inspiration for the next generation of bird migration research, outreach and education, and application. For more information about radar ornithology and how to understand the application of radar technology for studying bird migration, see this primer.