Good heavens, BirdCast: ssss-science!

Cecilia Nilsson The Cornell Lab Aug 02, 2019

… cue some less than sincere apologies to Thomas Dolby fans … The BirdCast team has been busy publishing a book about science! We have been very fortunate to publish a number of papers over the past year to document all the cool findings we’ve discovered in our work and with our collaborators. Here is a short summary of some of them, with links to where you can read more. Enjoy!

Billions of birds in the sky

By summarizing all the movements of birds we se on the weather radars, Dokter et al (2018) estimates how many birds actually migrate over the United States. We drew two transects over the country and estimated how many birds pass each in spring and autumn. How many? Hint: it’s billions! Read more here.

Your favorite forecast

If you are here, you are probably very familiar with the migration forecast we produce! But read more about the science behind it here.

Birds and a solar eclipse

Lots of people prepared for the Great American Eclipse of August 2017 for months, and even years, ahead. Most of us knew roughly what to expect. But… apparently birds and insects didn’t get the message. So how did birds and insects react to this unexpected change in the daily light and dark cycle? By looking at how their activity in the atmosphere changed during the eclipse, we could see that changes in ambient light made most birds and insects settle down, even long before totality. Read more here.

How will climate change affect winds during migration?

Wind speed and direction play important roles for flying birds. A strong tailwind can double their speed, while a strong headwind can leave them making almost no progress at all toward their goal. La Sorte et al (2019) investigates how the amount of wind assistance birds get during migration will change under different climate change scenarios. Read more here.

Lighting up the sky

We know that light pollution is a major problem for migratory birds, causing large numbers of nocturnally migrating birds to die in building collisions each year. However, where and when the largest number of birds are exposed to light pollution isn’t always obvious. By combing our data of where birds migrate with satellite data on artificial light we identified the greatest risk areas and ranked US cities after how much migrants they expose to light at night. How does your city rank?

You shouldn’t always listen to your friends

Some species of nocturnally migrating birds seem to die more frequently in building collisions than others. Why? To find out, we collaborated with researchers at the University of Michigan and The Field Museum and volunteers in Chicago and Cleveland, and found that birds that produce flight calls during nocturnal migration are more likely to die in building collisions. Read the full story here.

Gulf coast migration

By combining eBird and radar data, we took a deep dive into the migration across the gulf coast. Read all about the 2 billion (!) birds that migrate over the Gulf Coast of the US each spring here.

Curious about what methods we use? Check out these to great pages about weather radar in ornithology and frequently asked questions.