Real time ‘birds-eye’ views of the continental U.S.

Ornithologists didn’t realize the magnitude of migration that occurred in the fall and spring until the turn of the 20th century.

In 2018, after 20 years of research and planning, the BirdCast program began to feature migration forecasts that could predict how many birds would be flying over the continental U.S.  and when. They also posted live migration maps that had the number of birds that had actually taken flight.

The BirdCast tracking technology has had three core partners. The Centers are at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Colorado State University, and University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Bird migration happens twice a year, fall and spring, on a scale that is difficult to fathom unless you look at these live maps. Up to 4 billion birds and more than 600 species migrate across North America every spring, mostly at night. Sometimes, by looking up, we can see a cloud of flying objects.  With BirdCast, we are looking with a ‘bird’s eye’ view at a live map across the lower Continental U.S.

Last year the site added a Migration Dashboard that allows users to search the migration by state and county so you can learn who flew over your residence in the night, and who might be catching a wink in the woods near you. This gives you estimates of total migration traffic over your state or county, the direction and speed of any migration and more. You can also find lists of likely migration species living in your area now.

The fun of this site is imbued with a sense of responsibility for the birds when you learn about the perils they face. Hundreds of millions of birds have collisions with skyscrapers and other structures that are lit at night or made of glass.  Light pollution in general is an ever-increasing peril.  Should we honor the migration time frames and turn off or lower the lights? There are Lights Out programs from Connecticut to Colorado and they share data from BirdCast to mobilize local governments and businesses to turn off lights.  Audubon has Project Safe Flight that treats birds that have been injured after hitting a building.

The BirdCast project has relatively few scientists, and a small staff.  Since its launch in 2018 it has become the leading forecasting tool of bird migration, used by birders, researchers, scientists, local governments, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture which is looking at bird movements and Avian flu rates.

This site helps us to realize our place in our universe,  the other creatures with whom we share the planet, and our obligations to them.

Note:  Mark your calendars on January 5th, 2025 – It’s National Bird Day.


Earlier ASE articles about birds: