The new atlas of bird migration shows extraordinary journeys

The new atlas of bird migration shows extraordinary journeys

WASHINGTON (AP) – A laurel-breasted warbler weighs about four pennies, but twice a year makes an extraordinary journey. The tiny songbird flies nearly 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) between Canada’s spruce forests and its wintering grounds in northern South America.

“Migratory birds are these little globetrotters,” said Jill Deppe, senior director of the Migratory Bird Initiative at the National Audubon Society.

A new online atlas of bird migration, released Thursday, draws on an unprecedented number of scientific and community data sources to illustrate the paths of some 450 bird species in the Americas, including warblers.

The Bird Migration Explorer mapping tool, available free to the public, is an ongoing collaboration between 11 groups that collect and analyze data on bird movements, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, US Geological Survey, Georgetown University, Colorado State University and the National Audubon Society.

For the first time, the site will bring together online data from hundreds of scientific studies using GPS tags to track bird movements, as well as more than 100 years of bird band data collected by the USGS, community scientific observations included in the Cornell’s eBird platform, genomic analysis of feathers to identify bird origins and other data.

“The past two decades have seen a real resurgence in different technologies to monitor bird migrations around the world at scales that were not previously possible,” said Peter Marra, a bird migration expert at Georgetown University who collaborated. to the project.

The site allows a user to enter a species, for example the osprey, and to observe the movements over the course of a year. For example, data from 378 tracked ospreys is displayed as yellow dots moving between coastal North America and South America as a calendar bar scrolls through the months of the year.

Or users can enter the city they live in and click elsewhere on the map for a partial list of the birds that migrate between the two locations. For example, ospreys, bobolinks, and at least 12 other species migrate between Washington, DC and Fonte Boa, Brazil.

As new tracking data becomes available, the site will continue to expand. Melanie Smith, program director for the site, said the next phase of expansion will add more seabird data.

Michael Herrera, a resident of Washington, DC, started bird watching about four months ago and was immediately hooked. “It’s almost like this hidden world that’s right in front of your eyes,” he said. “Once you start paying attention, all these details that were like background noise suddenly have meaning.”

Herrera said he was eager to learn more about the migration routes of waterfowl in the Central Atlantic region, such as great blue herons and white herons.

Marra of Georgetown hopes involving the public will help highlight some of the conservation challenges birds face, including habitat loss and climate change.

Over the past 50 years, the bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by nearly 30%, with migratory species facing some of the largest declines.


Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsoncristina.


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Find out more about the AP climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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