Thumbnail image Brian Sullivan | Macaulay Library

[Chelsea Benson] Hello, everyone. Welcome to today’s webinar from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We’re excited that you’re joining us today. We’re going to be discussing the amazing migrations of three different bird species. We’ll be using Birds of the World, which is an online database, to guide our conversation.

My name is Chelsea and I’m on the Visitor’s Center Team at the Cornell Lab. And I’m going to be facilitating our conversation. And I’m going to invite our two panelists to turn on their video and join us for a moment here. Hello, good to see you.

[Laura Kammermeier] Hi there.

[Chelsea Benson] So today we’re joined by Laura Kammemeier. She’s the marketing manager for the Cornell Labs Birds Of The World. Hey, Laura.

[Laura Kammermeier] Hi, there. How are you?

[Chelsea Benson] I’m great. Thank you so much for taking the time to join our conversation today. We also are joined by Nicholas Sly. He’s the co-managing editor of Birds of the World.

[Nicholas Sly] Hi, Chelsea, and hi, everyone.

[Chelsea Benson] I’m really excited for our conversation. It’s really interesting. I’ve gotten a sneak preview. So lots to learn today. I am going to ask you to turn your video for the announcements, and then I’m going to bring you back on for the good part of the webinar. All right. So today’s webinar is from Ithaca, New York. And I’m going to read a statement acknowledging the Indigenous people as the original inhabitants of this area.

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogoho:no the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogoho:no are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of the Gayogoho:no dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogoho:no people, past and present, to these lands and waters.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we’re home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds in the integral roles they play in our ecosystems. Our mission is to advance leading edge research, education, and citizen science that helps solve pressing conservation challenges.

Today’s webinar is part of our two-week migration celebration. It’s the lab’s largest online event of the year. Check out all our other virtual programs, and watch the recorded webinars from last week on our Migration Celebration website, which is being shared in the chat. I have a few quick tech-related announcements, and then we’re going to hear from Laura and Nick.

If you’re watching on Zoom, there is closed captioning. You can click on the CC button to turn those captions on or off. For those of you on Zoom, you can click the Q&A button at the bottom of the screen. And you can type your questions into that Q&A. We’ll be answering some questions verbally, and for others we’ll be typing in our response, which you can see in the answered column.

Please only use the chat for technical support. And I have colleagues who are behind the scenes responding to the Zoom Q&A in the chat. We’re also streaming live to Facebook. So if you’re watching on the Cornell Labs Facebook page, hello. And you can add your questions to the comments. All right, that was a lot of announcements, but let’s get started. So Laura and Nick if you could join us again. I’d love if you could take a minute to start with some introductions. Share your role at Birds of the World, and also some of your background.

[Nicholas Sly] Sure. So I’ll start. I have a background studying avian evolution, and a PhD studying the genomics of bird coloration. And here at Birds of the World, I’m a co-managing editor, and so my role is to help authors through the process of revising our species accounts.

[Chelsea Benson] Fascinating. You probably learn something new every day.

[Nicholas Sly] Definitely.

[Laura Kammermeier] Great. And my name is Laura Kammemeier. And I’m the marketing manager for Birds Of The World. My background is in ecology and in communicating about bird conservation and sustainability issues. So I’ve had several roles doing that for either my own work or helping others. And as marketing manager, my role is primarily to make sure people know and understand what the resource is, as well as access it from all regions of the world. I also work with partners who are helping us grow the resource. So it’s really, really great to be part of the show, and I’m eager to tell you about it today.

[Chelsea Benson] And Super rewarding too, especially that you can connect with all these colleagues from around the world to expand the resource. If you both could take a minute, because we’re going to be focusing our conversation so much on migration today, I would love to hear where you love to birdwatch. What are your favorite places to visit, or that you’ve been during migration season?

[Laura Kammermeier] Yeah. Well, I’ll start. One of my favorite places is Northwest Ohio in what historically was the Great Swamp of Northwest Ohio. And it’s a beautiful area, many of you might have heard of the festival that’s already there, that’s called The Biggest Week in North American Birding. And I would make a pilgrimage every migration, usually the spring migration is the best there. And it’s a place where there’s several locations along the shoreline of Lake Erie, and there’s this one in particular called Magee Marsh.

And I go on the bird walk, and when you’re on the marsh, you’ve got a lot of vegetation right overhead. And warblers can be just almost within reach, really within 6 to 8 feet of you. So a large variety of warblers and other migrants come through. It’s really a fascinating place with a lot of energy, a lot of people. So I really love that one. And I just love also migration in Europe. It’s an amazing place.

So if you go to the next slide. This is not my image, a friend let me borrow this image. But this is what we call a bearded vulture. And it’s the type of bird that I saw in the Pyrenees of Spain. So there’s these foothills that have these large rock formations. And so if you climb and climb and climb up this one particular rock called Pena Falconera, you can get to this place where you can you’re just surrounded by migrating vultures that are just swirling around you.

You could see the sun glistening off its back. You’ve come eye to eye with birds. And so there’s a lot of vultures there. There’s these, there’s the Eurasian Griffon vulture, as well as the Egyptian vultures, and probably a few more too. But it’s one of my favorite places. Completely unforgettable.

[Chelsea Benson] We just found some new places to add to my bucket list. Thanks, Laura.

[Laura Kammermeier] I recommend it.

[Chelsea Benson] Nick, where have you that’s been really interesting?

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah, sorry I’m ogling that bearded vulture. It’s an incredible bird. I’d love to see one one day. One of my favorite places–

[Laura Kammermeier] People might know that bird by lammergeier too. So lammergeier is the old name, now it’s called bearded vulture.

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah, so one of my favorite places to bird during migration is called Freezeout Lake in Montana. And so this somewhat little known gem on the remote high plains, nestled in close to the mountains. And so it’s a big wetland complex. And it provides a staging ground for hundreds of thousands of snow geese, swans, and other waterfowl as they head North to breeding grounds in Canada.

And it’s just a great place to watch a huge assortment of birds. And it’s a great place to watch a whole blizzard of snow geese as they forage and stock up for their migration further North. And all of this fantastic birding is set against this stunning backdrop of the jagged snowcapped peaks of the front range of the Northern Rockies in Montana. So that’s one of my favorite places to bird during migration.

[Chelsea Benson] Very cool. Thanks, Nick. Those are some really amazing destinations. And of course, we all have our local favorite destinations too. I just being at the Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, we get lots of great migrating birds that stop sucker woods on our property, and also at Cayuga Lake. We’re going to be hearing about three migration stories from Nick today. And talking about how scientists are using technology to unravel some of these mysteries of migration.

He is going to be showing us photos and maps and data from recent research papers as well as species accounts from birds of the world. So before we get really in depth into these great birds, I would love Laura, if you could share with us more about Birds of the World and some of the things, the features that it has, that Nick’s going to be sharing.

[Laura Kammermeier] Yeah, absolutely. I think it might help us give some context with what Nick shares today. So let me share my screen. OK. So for those of you who don’t know what Birds of the World is, it’s an online Ornithology resource that contains a species account, a life history account, for every single bird in the world. So that’s 10,824 species, as well as 249 family overviews. Family overviews are something that you don’t often get online. So this is a place to get a lot of that information.

So let’s take a look at a typical species account. I’m going to enter a bird, yellow-breasted chat. That’s one bird that I’ve seen in the past. It’s a beautiful yellow bird. And it’s a bird that looks somewhere between a wood warbler, and an oriole/blackbird. And it turns out it’s neither. It’s in a family of all its own. So it’s in what we call the icteriidae family. So it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous bird.

And what this life history account goes into, is all the collective biology, all the science that’s known about this bird has been put together, summarized and condensed by scientists and reviewed by editors. So totally reviewed work that comes into this. And it gives us a lot of information about everything from appearances, plumages and molts, systematics, including, I’ll go here, including subspecies information. And there happens to be two subspecies for this chat. So you can get a lot of information there.

The information also goes into the distribution and abundance, the habitat, diet and foraging, sounds and vocal behaviors, behavior, breeding, demography, as well as conservation. So literally everything that is known about that bird comes into here, and is summarized in a way that we can understand as non-scientists. Everything is highly referenced as well.

So one of the great things about Birds of the World, is that it’s highly integrated with both eBird and Macauley libraries. So let me go into some detail about how that is. And how that works. So knowing where a bird is and where it’s going is one of the key questions that we have as birders, but we also have as scientists to answer a lot of questions about bird biology. So eBird is the lab’s global citizen science program where people enter bird observations into the eBird app.

And then what scientists do on the other end is summarize that data in a way that tells us where birds are and where they’re going. So for example, eBird is able to tell us– is summarizing these observations there, these are direct observations. This is what we call the purple range map for eBird. And these maps are brought into Birds of the World, and the editor’s rights context about these maps so that we can have a better understanding.

So we not only have those simply bird maps, but we have a smooth simple range map that is produced based on all of this data. There’s also what we call seasonal abundance maps, which are just fantastic. This comes from our eBird science and trends group who are doing really sophisticated analyzes and visualizations. And this map shows again the range of the bird, but it gives us the concentrations like the darker concentration birds are where the highest population concentrations are at that time. And it gives us a seasonal timeline for that happening. So this is why we call it a seasonal abundance map.

And so we’re relevant and where the data exists in eBird, the Birds of the World editors are bringing that in. So relative to today’s discussion, there’s an entire section for movements and migration for almost every species where we’re the information is known and the accounts are updated. So pretty extensive analysis here for the chat. And it gives you a basic migration overview for the chat as well as the timing. And routes, and this, again, is a narrative analysis.

But some of that is highlighted in this very excellent map from science and trends where we can see– we can watch the animations of that species going from its wintering grounds in Central America all the way North just over the border in Canada both in the West and then the East. So this is a really excellent way to understand where the birds are.

Again, you have the seasonality of it. So if I wanted to stop it in September, here we are. So this is the relative abundance of the birds as they’re making their way South. So, yeah. So again, integration with both eBird and Macaulay Library what we get from Macaulay library is an excellent set of images, videos, and sound recordings for every bird, which really, really together that tells the life history of the bird.

So you’ve got stunning images. This is what we call the essential set. And this is an overview– these are really specially selected in order to provide the best representation of that species throughout its lifecycle. So we’ve got males and females. We have juveniles and adults. There’s really a great selection here, in addition to a featured video and a featured sound recording. So that is wonderful, but it goes even deeper than that.

There’s a lot more videos that represent something that is being told, the story that’s being told of life history has an image or it has a video or a sound recording within it. So all of those are recorded in, or are stored, collected, curated by the editors, and put into the multimedia section. So here we have photos, audios, videos, illustrations, and figures. So, yeah, the power of Birds of the World is really about this integration. And it’s about the depth and the comprehensiveness of it.

And because it’s so deeply sourced with scientific references, let me show you the references. It’s so deeply sourced from the primary and secondary literature, that it’s a highly authoritative resource. It’s been used by both scientists, researchers, but also it’s written in a way that bird watchers like us can understand. So last thing it’s available by subscription online, and we could talk about that more later.

[Chelsea Benson] Thank you so much, Laura. And I do understand that birds of the world is going to offer a pretty nice discount to the subscription service. There are some things that people can access for free, and we’ll talk more about that at the end of the webinar. But it’s primarily a subscription, and we’re going to give a nice discount at the end. And I saw some questions come up in the Q&A that I think we should just pop in with real quick before Nick shares his migration stories.

Laura, one of the question is, does the information of the birds of the world populate our All About Birds website? So for those in our audience who don’t know about All About Birds, it’s a bird-watching and field guide that the lab puts out. And it’s not nearly as comprehensive as Birds of the World, but could you talk about the connection between All About Birds and Birds of the World?

[Laura Kammermeier] That’s such a great question because people do wonder, if you’re giving all this information for free, why do you have a subscription-based resource as well? They’re very different resources. So Birds of the World might have served as a reference for All About Birds, but it doesn’t contain– it doesn’t feed All About Birds information at this time.

All about birds only has, I think, 600 subspecies in North America. It was developed by the lab when it was more regional, and now we have this global focus. So Birds of the World is where we’re putting all the information about new species and updating these. Now someday they might tie together. But right now they do not.

[Chelsea Benson] Great Question and then the other question is, when we were looking at the maps, and maybe, Nick, when you show maps people were wondering on the eBird map there was like light gray and dark gray. And what does that designate when you’re looking at these range maps?

[Nicholas Sly] Oh, yeah. That’s a great question. Can you pull up the eBird map on there?

[Laura Kammermeier] Sure. Which one? The distribution map?

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah, the distribution map with the purple squares. So on that map, that’s showing raw data of all the eBird observations from the species across its whole range. And so the purple squares are where the bird occurs, and they’re shaded by density. So there’s more sightings in the darker purple squares. And then if you see dark gray squares, those are indicating regions where people have looked for birds and have submitted birds to eBird, but the chats were not found in the gray squares. And then regions of the world without those are regions that have not been surveyed.

[Chelsea Benson] So dark gray, we have not surveyed there, and light gray, we have not– what did you say? I already lost my train of thought.


They are in the area but they haven’t been spotted by eBirders. Is that what were you getting at?

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah, the gray squares are where people have [INAUDIBLE] every spring and fall migration from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back. So each trip, 12,000 miles, roundtrip, 24,000 miles of distance travel per year by these birds. This champion breeder– champion traveler breeds around the Arctic Ocean, around Greenland, all the way south to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. And they migrate South, and they enjoy a second summer on the wintering grounds all the way South in Antarctica on the edges of the packed ice down there.

So how did a bird like Arc tern evolve this extreme migration pattern? As an ornithologist, I’m just really jazzed by the science behind uncovering the mystery of why this occurs. And I’m really excited to explore how research is guiding us toward better understanding of how birds move across the Earth in space and time. So there’s plenty of mysteries still to solve and wonders left to discover about bird migration, where they migrate, how they migrate, when they migrate, why they migrate, there’s a lot of bird species in the world. And there’s so much left to learn.

Thankfully, there’s lots of ornithologists all over the world trying to piece these puzzles together using combinations of new technology and good old-fashioned field work to understand bird migration. So today, I’m going to review the migration stories of three very different bird species with different migrations, the black swift, the pink footed shearwater, and the European bee-eater. Let’s start with the Black Swift.

So here is the species account for black swift on Birds of the World. Now if you’re not familiar with the species, this is a large swift species that nests on cliffs. It likes to nest near or even behind waterfalls, which is pretty cool. And it spends most of its time flying really high in the sky, feeding on aerial insects. And so this is a view that you would typically get of a swift flying high above you.

Because of these traits of its life history and ecology, it’s actually been a very difficult species for ornithologists to study. So if we navigate to the distribution page of the black swift, we can learn more about where it’s found. In particular, we can look at the distribution map. And so black swift actually has this very patchy range. Here, orange is the breeding range, yellow is migration, and blue down here in South America is winter.

And so black swift likes to breed in mountains or other areas that have a lot of cliffs. So it likes to breed in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and up in Canada. It likes to it breeds in the Sierra and coastal ranges of California and other mountain ranges in Mexico. And in the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean.

Up until about 10 years ago, we knew generally speaking that black swifts migrate out of North America, and they passed down through Central America on that migration. But where they spent the winter was actually a total mystery. The blue wintering range shown on this map is actually still a fresh ornithological discovery. And so in 2009, an ornithologist from Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in Colorado and their collaborators, they began putting light level geolocators on black swifts that they caught in Colorado.

Now these are tiny devices that are attached with lightweight harnesses to the bird and they log data such as sunrise and sunset times. And they allow determination of the latitude and longitude every day the bird is traveling. So the authors used these geolocators on black swifts to determine the wintering range where they went when they left Colorado. And it turns out that they winter in Amazonia. And so here is a figure from that paper where the authors show that birds spend most of their winter time in red on this map in Western Brazil, deep in the Amazon basin.

So these geolocators also provide a coarse estimate of the migratory path from Colorado to the Amazon and back. So here is a path of one tagged making its way from the Amazon back to Colorado in the spring migration route. Now these locators have a bit less precision than GPS, but generally speaking all the birds that tracked transited from Amazonia back along a path through Central America up through Texas and back to their breeding sites in Colorado.

As this fun little aside, so these locators consistently show a migration of these Colorado Black swifts through Western Texas. And at the time, Texas had never recorded the species for its official state list. And so the species was only added to the Texas State list based on documented site records in 2019, years after this study was published. And that just shows the difficulty of tracking the species movements based on site observations only. And that helps reinforce the idea that we need this sort of study to try to figure out where these birds are going.

So the authors who worked on this study, they published their work in 2012 in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. But overall, there’s still much to learn about Black Swift. Do all Black Swift populations winter in the Amazon? Do they all follow similar migration paths even though they’re breeding in many different places all over North America there? Where do the Caribbean populations go, for example? It will take future studies to tell us more about this species.

So the original Birds of North America species account for Black Swift written well before the study was conducted. It was updated in 2021 by some of the study authors, including Caroline Gunn, and they updated this account in 2021 for the new Birds of the World account that incorporates all their new research and everything else that is known about Black Swift.

So we just looked at the species whose wintering range was previously unknown, and we investigated how scientists figured that out. Now let’s look at how we learn more about a species’ migration routes. So for this, we’re going to look at pink-footed shearwater. Now shearwaters are birds that spend their whole lives at sea. They travel thousands of kilometers across the ocean, and they really only return to land to nest.

One second here. Here we have the Birds of the World account for pink-footed shearwater. And if we again, navigate to the distribution page for that species, we take a look at their distribution map, we find that pink-footed shearwater nests on just three islands offshore of Chile in South America, all the way down here. And while they’re breeding, they actually stay relatively close to shore with their foraging.

Now we can learn a little bit about their breeding, if we now get to the breeding page. And if we look through here. And so the pink-footed shearwaters nest on forested islands. And they actually fly into the forest, down to the ground, and then they dig burrows among the tree roots, and they nest in these burrows. And then in the burrows they lay a single egg, like this. And those eggs hatch into this chick coated in thick gray down, like this chick down here in the borough.

And so the breeding biology of shearwaters is really fascinating, and so, right? But let’s focus on where shearwaters go once breeding is finished for the season. And so here we can navigate to the eBird map for pink-footed shearwater. And as I explained before, so purple squares on this map represents sightings of pink-footed shearwater all year round, across all the years of data.

And then if I show this button, these dark gray squares are places where people have looked for birds, and have not seen pink-footed shearwater. But I’m going to hide those so you can focus on the purple squares that are just pink-footed shearwater observations. Now if we take a look at where those positions are, we find that pink-footed shearwater is found over a vast ocean territory. And there’s lots of nearshore records in eBird for the species, all the way down from the Southern tip of South America, all the way up the Pacific coasts to Alaska in the North.

And there’s a handful of observations in the Pacific all the way out as far as Hawaii out there to the West. And so looking at distribution, this distribution, is sort of an open question, what are the shearwaters doing in the non-breeding season? Again, their breeding is only right down here across a couple of little islands. And then there’s all that vast territory in the non-breeding season for them.

And so do the shearwaters migrate to particular areas? Or are they just wandering randomly over the vast ocean? Do they really stick to the coast so tightly as seen by these observations? Or is that just where most birders are on their pelagic trips? These questions are really difficult to answer for species that spend practically their whole lives out to sea, like a shearwater. But like the black swift case that we talked about, ornithologists seek to answer these questions using telemetry studies.

And so a team of researchers from the US Geological Survey in California and the non-profit Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge in Chile set about to answer these questions for pink-footed shearwater. And so they captured shearwater that was on the breeding grounds. And they fitted over 40 birds with satellite transmitters to follow them after they leave the breeding islands. And they track their movements.

And so all this tracking data, when you line them all up, and look at the dates and the tracks and where they went, it actually shows a really complicated pattern, which I’ll explain. So after the breeding season, down here at the bottom of the map in Chile, the shearwaters leave the islands in roughly April or May. And they move North along the Pacific coast staying pretty close to the coast. And they reach the coastal waters of Peru, a trip that only takes them a few days to a week at most.

And there the population divides in the winter. Maybe a quarter of the population spends their whole winter in these Peruvian waters, but 3/4 of the population, so most of the birds, they stay here for a brief stopover period, and then they continue their migration. And so they move much farther offshore for the second leg of their migration. And they take this sort of somewhat direct route cutting across the Pacific from Peru all the way over to the coast of Mexico, a trip that takes them about two weeks to complete.

And there the rest of the population winters from Baja, California, all the way up to Pacific coast to British Columbia, Canada. And then after spending the winter in those waters, they returned to the breeding grounds by the same route in November. And so in 2019, the authors published their work in the journal “Endangered Species Research.” And I think this study is really fascinating for the complexity of migration that it reveals.

These seabirds are not wandering widely or blindly, they’re following well-defined migratory flyways across the ocean, in the wintering and well-defined oceanic areas. Much as we know land birds do on the land. But we simply wouldn’t know the details of this migratory behavior with any sort of precision without these tracking studies.

So more recently the authors of this study also did a complete revision of the Birds of the World account for footage here, and they incorporated the results of their research and much more that is known about the species in this species account. So that’s two migration stories. And for my third, I’m going to look at how migration is affected by climate change.

And so for this, I’m going to look at European Bee-eater. So if you’re not familiar with bee-eater this is one of them. These are birds that are somewhat related to kingfishers. They like to perch out in the open and sally out to catch flying insects, such as bees and wasps. If we navigate to the European Bee-eater Birds of the World page here, we can find that European bidders have this very wide distribution. So they breed from Spain in the West, although it is to do for Western China. And this is a long-distance migrant.

So these breeding populations from Europe and Asia migrate all the way South to sub-Saharan Africa to spend the winter. Now European beaters are a warm-weather species that like sunny, open habitats. And with climate change over the last few decades, the bee-eater and other species have been expanding their breeding range northward in Europe with rising temperatures and changes in land use making northern Europe more hospitable for this warm-loving species. And so–

So bee-eaters that are breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa, they face a little bit of a quandary. They’ve got the Mediterranean in their path, which is a big ocean barrier. And birds really don’t like to migrate over long distances– they don’t they don’t like to migrate long distances over water if they can avoid it. So how to avoid it. Bee-eaters like many European birds, they prefer to take paths that avoid flying over the water. And they show strong differences in the route that they choose in different parts of their range. And this is a phenomenon known as migratory divide.

And so bee-eaters from Western Europe follow a mostly Western migration route, where they migrate down the Iberian Peninsula to Spain, and then they cross the Mediterranean at the narrow Strait of Gibraltar to reach Africa, and proceed onward to their migration grounds to the South. The bee-eaters in Eastern Europe follow an Eastern route where they wrap around the Eastern Mediterranean through the Middle East, and then down into Africa.

So with the expansion of the range, we have these newly established breeding colonies in northern Germany, and where do they go? What route do they choose to follow? And so an international team of researchers again put trackers on dozens of bee-eaters to try to figure out where they go. And they found that these different populations have both different flyways, and different wintering grounds in Africa. And so we look at the results here.

In the left-hand panel, you see the results from the Western population. Bee-eaters from Western Europe, again, they follow the Western migration route, like I explained. And then they migrate and migrate down to Western Africa for the winter where from about Senegal across to Nigeria. Now on the right-hand panel of these three panels, those are tagged birds from the Eastern route. Now, again, they follow the Eastern migration route as I explained, but then they exclusively winter all the way down in Southern Africa.

And so in the middle panel are the birds tracked from the New population, the newly established population that’s due to climate change. And they take an intermediate migration route, but one that’s a little bit closer to the Western route than the Eastern route. And these birds are seemingly island-hopping across the Western Mediterranean. They use the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, other islands to minimize their overwater flights. And then they also winter in a intermediate location in Africa, from Ghana South to Angola.

Now an important result here is also that there’s a lot more variability in the route and wintering range in these birds than in either source population. And that might be due to this new population, this new breeding population being founded by birds from multiple sources. And therefore, taking sort of an intermediate route.

This new population also differed in migration timing. So the Western bee-eaters migrate several weeks earlier than the Eastern bee-eaters. And the new population, despite being fairly close to Western birds in the route, they actually resemble the Eastern population in timing. So there’s a bit of a disconnect there. And that wraps up my three stories about migration.

So migration is a phenomenon, it’s fascinating in its own right. It’s well worthy of study. But even more so, species conservation is dependent on knowledge of the species throughout its range, not just the breeding grounds and the wintering grounds, but also where it travels, and what habitats it’s using during its travels of migration. And as climate change causes rain shifts in birds, bird migration, and timing its routes, all of that has to change too. And sometimes it’s going to change in unpredictable ways.

It remains to be seen whether those changes will be disruptive or beneficial to the species. And so these three case studies show how ornithologists all over the world are actively working to learn more to understand migration. We need this sort of baseline understanding for many more birds. And we need to know more about migration to protect these birds from habitat loss.

We need to know more about climate change to better predict how these species are going to change. And along the way as we do this research, who knows what fascinating and previously unknown bits of biology we’re going to uncover. But that’s all for me.

[Chelsea Benson] Nick Thank you so much for taking us through those three stories of different bird migrations. And I just cannot get over how beautiful those bee-eaters are. Just the coloration on them is just astounding.

[Nicholas Sly] They’re pretty incredible birds.

[Chelsea Benson] Oh my gosh, so lovely. I’m sure as a PhD who studied color in bird feathers, you know quite a bit about them. So Nick showed us some really cool things using Birds of the World. And I just wanted Laura to have another chance to share a bit more some of the resources that Birds the World offers. And then we’re going to shift into audience Q&A.

[Laura Kammermeier] Right. Great. So, yeah, I just wanted to put a fine point on how comprehensive and deep the material within birds of the world is. And Nick’s overview of those species kind of gave you a sense of what we’re learning, and the kind of science brought in by our editorial team. It is a global and participatory platform, that’s what’s cool about it. We’ve got more than 2000 authors have contributed to this. Let me put on my screen here, have contributed to the resource so far.

We’ve got a global editorial network that works on the accounts as well. But also then you have the eBirder. So when you’re watching birds and eBirding somewhere in the world, that data point finds its way into a map that’s being used by scientists and their research being used by bird watchers like me when I’m trying to figure out where my species of interest is. So that’s a really fascinating part to this.

One thing that I wanted to show you is, let’s see. This is an overview of the recently updated accounts. So if you go up and down, these are fantastic scientific illustrations by the way. So this is only the last several months of updates. We have at least 200 here. This is probably 2022 updates, maybe even less. But this shows you how you can go see where the new information is found.

Wanted to also show you one of those family accounts. The family accounts are arranged this way with a scientific illustration of representative species from each family. And here we have in the, how do you say that or paraoria family, am I right, Nick?


[Nicholas Sly] Paraoria, maybe.

[Laura Kammermeier] All right. We have six species found within there. And here’s one that I recognize the red-crested cardinal. So it allows me a quick view into that species account from there. But what’s neat about the family accounts is it gives you the global range of the birds within the species, it tells you how many genera, and how many species within each family. And gives you some life history information for that family as well. So habitat, diet and foraging, breeding, conservation status, as well as systematics history. Conservation status is outlined for this group as a whole here as well.

So that’s one feature that’s really exciting. Another one is the Explore Taxonomy feature, where you can, basically what this is, is all in taxonomic order, all the species in the world, which is pretty overwhelming. It’s really interesting to look at, and you can pick a family again, and just kind of look at all the different species in that family. Or if you’re interested in knowing what birds are near you, then all you need to do is go to the filter, and change the region to a preset region.

Or you can put– I’m going to put in Peru here. And this filters all the birds. So you’ve got only the species that are found in Peru. And this amounts to 1857 have been reported to eBird from Peru. So again, this is a great way to kind of study up. If you’re going to Peru, you can use this as a study guide that can take you deeper. Or if you just want to understand the various shapes and sizes of those birds and colors, this is a great tool for that.

And that’s actually available outside of the paywall. So you can look at these tiled images. You can’t see the data within, but you can look at the tiled images. I really want to show you one more thing, because I think that–

[Chelsea Benson] OK.

[Laura Kammermeier] –anymore. How are we doing on time? If there’s any more–

[Chelsea Benson] We’re good.

[Laura Kammermeier] If there’s any eBirders in the crowd, there’s something else. Birds of the World kind of allows you to bring your eBirding and Macaulay Library contribution history into each life history account, and this is how. So long time ago, I guess it was in 2016, I birded in Uganda. And I was lucky enough to see this amazing species this shoebill.

And because I’m an avid eBirder, I was able to put that into my checklist. And now because these two things are connected, I’m able to see– it’s able to record whether I’ve seen, photographed, or sound recorded this bird. So I’ve both seen and photographed the shoebill, so it shows as blue. These badges show is blue. So let’s see what happens when I click on Seen.

What this does, is it calls up the eBird checklist for the day that I saw that bird. So here’s the shoebill. I saw it on November 7th, 2016, in Mabamba swamp. And if I click on that checklist, what this is, it takes me down a trip down memory lane really. I get a reminder of what I saw that day, all the images of the other species that I notice, but it also is the place where it stores my images for that bird.

And this is just interesting from a point of view where it’s telling like– as Birds of the World tells the life histories of birds, it’s also able to connect my life history of birding. So it really is a way to bring everything together, and to quickly be able to see, oh, did I see that? Oh, what does it look like again? Where was when I saw it? Those kind of things really help us put the whole picture of our birding lifestyles together. And that’s one of the most exciting features.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s really cool. I noticed that Nick’s background went dark during our little overview. I think that the power might have gone out at the Lab of Ornithology. I know I lost my internet briefly during this webinar. So I’m having a little technical difficulties. Nick is doing some great troubleshooting, I see. So bear with us, audience. Yep

[Laura Kammermeier] The storm’s overhead here in New York today.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, we are having quite a round of thunderstorms in this part of New York. So we apologize. So Birds of the World, it is a subscription, although there are, you mentioned, a few resources for free. You said you had a discount that you could provide to our audience today?

[Laura Kammermeier] Right. So it’s available both to birdwatchers, to people, personal subscriptions, as well as institutional. So a lot of institutions already have a subscription worldwide, and it might be available at an academic library or a public library. So that you can check to see if your institution has that and how you might access. But a personal subscription is available online by going to the site, and there would be a Subscribe button up here, and that’ll take you to a page like this.

And so here you can read a little bit more about it. And importantly, you can go to the free previews that are available at the bottom of this page. And these are completely open. So feel free to examine them to see. Again, this is something that you want, and it’s going to be useful to you. And the coupon that we have for today is MIGRATION30. So that’s all caps, MIGRATION, 30 at the end, no space, MIGRATION30. And that will give you 30% off a personal subscription for your first year.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s great. Thank you so much, Laura. And I saw somebody was asking, is it part of the membership of the Lab of Ornithology? And it’s not. It’s a separate thing. But we are offering a really generous discount to folks. So just use that code MIGRATION30, which I will be sharing with the recorded video, so that you have it written down for you somewhere. So you can go ahead and access that.

We’re going to shift our gears, and Nick, is your internet good enough to take some audience Q&A.

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah, so we lost power in here, but apparently the WiFi is still working. So as long as I’m here, I can answer some questions.

[Chelsea Benson] OK. All right. Well, thanks Nick.


One of the questions that people were asking that actually was pre-submitted to us is, is migration evolutionary necessity? Do birds have to migrate? Are they evolved to do so?

[Nicholas Sly] That is a fantastic question. And so is migration an evolutionary necessity. And so migration is certainly a common evolutionary phenomenon, but I would not say that it is necessary. Every bird, wherever they live, they face challenges across different seasons. But there’s never going to be one correct answer for birds to evolve to solve those challenges.

And so if you think about it if you’re from the temperate North or the temperate South regions that have lots of migratory birds, you know that also many other birds don’t migrate. Many other birds stay in over winter where you are. Perhaps they evolve sort of physiological adaptations for surviving in the winter that other species just avoid by migrating instead. But that just goes to show that there’s sort of many ways to solve the challenges that birds face. And migration is a big one and an important one, but it’s not the only one.

And it’s also worth pointing out that migration itself is not this single phenomenon that it has evolved either. It’s actually like a whole diversity of strategies, and styles, and types of migrations in lots of different scenarios, all evolved to answer different challenges that different species are facing.

[Chelsea Benson] One other thing is we often think of birds migrating in flocks, but do they always migrate in flocks. Is there an advantage to that for them?

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah. So like I said, many birds do migrate in flocks. And there is an advantage in that migrating flocks provide safety in numbers. So every individual in the flock is less likely to be attacked by a predator than if it was migrating alone. So many, many birds will migrate in flocks. But also many birds, especially like small birds will tend to migrate in smaller groups or just be more broadly scattered.

And if you think about it, they might not be– when you see a large number of migrating birds, like a really good morning with lots of birds streaming in that have been migrating to your area, they may not be closely associating in a flock per se. But it’s just that good migration conditions mean that many, many individuals decide it’s the right day to move, and they’re going to move.

And so you can have lots and lots of birds moving in migration, but it’s not necessarily a flocking structure, I guess I would say. So do birds always migrate in flocks? No. But there’s many different ways that they do.

[Chelsea Benson] You had mentioned that some birds have staging areas prior to migration. Could you explain what you mean by a staging area?

[Nicholas Sly] Sure. So migration, flying really long distances for really long periods of time all at once, it takes a huge amount of resources to do that. Like energy in the body. And so birds have to undergo changes in their body in order to do this. They need a lot of fat reserves to fuel all that power flying. And they need to build muscle mass to support all that. And there’s lots of changes going in the body.

And so staging grounds are when birds find a really good feeding area. And they stay in that area. It’s not their breeding grounds, it’s not the wintering grounds. It’s just somewhere intermediate. And they stay in that area, and they just pack on the food. And they pack on the fat. And they build the muscle, and they build the fat reserves that they need to actually then take off and go.

And so staging areas are critical in conserving these species, especially things like wetland species, like shorebirds or waterfowl where there may actually be very, very few areas that provide enough resources to do this. And so those staging areas can be incredible birding, for one, but they’re also incredibly important for the birds themselves because without them, they just aren’t going to be able to get the resources they need to finish their migration.

[Chelsea Benson] For this next question might be for you, as someone who has a background in conservation. What are some ways that we can support birds as they migrate? You’re still muted.

[Laura Kammermeier] OK. Well, some ways that people support birds, especially here in North America, is to put out hummingbird feeders during the migration season. And keep it a little bit longer, keep it up longer than when your particular hummingbird leaves, because you might have some North of you that are still migrating through. So keeping it up a few weeks early or later is one way to help migrants.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, and I know that in my yard I like to leave– I don’t deadhead, like cut all the flowers and seeds off my plants. I leave those up for birds to kind of forage on. And they still attract insects, which migratory birds really love to eat insects. And there’s all kinds of little things like turning out your lights during peak migration times, lots of little– Yeah, and Nick, people are wondering, and this isn’t quite related to Birds of the World, but how do we even know when there’s going to be lots of birds migrating through an area?

[Nicholas Sly] Oh, so that’s a great question. So one of the great resources for doing that sort of thing is this thing called BirdCast. And so BirdCast uses weather data and radar data to sort of track bird migration and provide real time predictions for when birds are going to move in your area. And that is a fantastic resource. And then maybe we have a link to that, I don’t have it handy, but–

So another way if you want to learn about when birds in your specific area are going to migrate, there is another resource. And so BirdCast will tell you generally speaking, tonight’s a great night for migration. But if you want to find out what species in your area are migrating, that’s another way to use eBird. And so if you go into eBird, you can select locations. So countries, states, counties, hot spots. And if you select those locations in eBird, then you can generate what are called bar charts for that region.

And bar charts show for every species in your region, the abundance across the calendar year. And for migratory species, it’s going to be really obvious. There’s going to be peaks in abundance in the spring, peaks of abundance in the fall. And you can use those bar charts to say, OK, what are the common migrating species? And which weeks, down to very specific, narrow windows of time, when are they going to be passing through my specific area? And so that’s probably one of the best resources to just figure out, what can I expect to see at any given time of the year?

[Laura Kammermeier] And within Birds of the World, you’ll find a narrative for where a science editor has kind of evaluated all the available information that’s available through eBird or BirdCast or any type of information, and brought it in and made a narrative with specific first dates of arrival and things like that.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. It’s super helpful. I go into Birds of the World all the time. I used to work at the lab in a citizen science project called Nest Watch. And that breeding information was invaluable, if people are like, how long do this bird sit on this egg? And how long are they in the nest? And all that information, it’s just so detail-oriented and it’s just fantastic.

And I love that Nick you brought that migration story, and how to use that resource to tell those migration stories. And the fact that it’s continually updated. The latest science and research is put into those species accounts. So it’s just a really valuable resource. And Laura and Nick I want to thank you for joining our talk today and sharing the migration stories. And then giving us some background about Birds of the World. You do a really amazing work. So thank you.

[Laura Kammermeier] Thank you, it was really fun. If anyone has something else we can cover, let us through the website.

[Chelsea Benson] Yes. Yes. We will be sharing the recorded version of this webinar in a few days along with that discount code. And information about birds of the world. So look for that email in the next few days. And you can join the rest of the Migration Celebration Webinars by going to the Migration Celebration website, which is being posted in the chat.

We have two more webinars this week. One is about the migration of whales and plankton, very cool. And another one, if you are interested in hearing more tips about how to help birds during migration, we have a whole webinar dedicated to tips for helping birds around the area where you live. We also have a kids virtual story time.

So lots of different programs to choose from these next few days. Thanks again, Laura and Nick for joining us. We really appreciate it. So have a great day everyone.

[Laura Kammermeier] All right. Thank you so much for having us.

[Nicholas Sly] Yeah. Thank you, it was so great.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. It was really fun. Thank you so much.

[Laura Kammermeier] Take care, bye bye.

[Chelsea Benson] Bye.

End of transcript

Discover fascinating migration facts and meet some birds with truly remarkable migration stories. In this webinar, we’ll tour some of the Earth’s most remarkable birds and see stunning photos through Birds of the World, an online database with information on over 10,800 species of birds.

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This webinar is part of our annual Migration Celebration. Join us for two weeks of online events, family-friendly programs, and ideas and resources for your own migration activities. Visit the Migration Celebration website for the full schedule of events and recorded webinars.