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[Monique Pipkins] All right, hi, everyone. We’ll get started in a couple of minutes. It’s nice to see so many people from around the world here. I see someone said they’re from Serbia, very cool. Welcome to today’s webinar. As well as from some other locations, Mexico, Canada, California, Florida, Maryland. Welcome, everyone. Feel free to keep typing in where you are from in the world so we can see how many people are here to learn about birds today.

Also greetings from Ithaca, Ithaca, New York is where the Cornell Lab is. It’s where I am currently. Hello, for anyone coming in from there as well. All right, so it is noon and we’ll get started. Hello, everyone and welcome to today’s webinar from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We’ll be discussing migration and how you can help birds.

Our panel of experts will share insights from their research and how their work helps us understand how we can better protect birds. My name is Monique Pipkins and I’m a PhD student at Cornell University, and I’ll be your moderator for today. Now, let me introduce our panel of experts. And experts, feel free to introduce yourself to the audience and wave hello while I introduce you. First with us today is Dr. Jacob Job, the associate director of Colorado State University’s Bird Genoscape Project, which is dedicated to protecting migratory birds across the full annual cycle. Hi, Jacob.

[Jacob Job] Glad to be here.

[Monique Pipkins] Glad to have you. Next, we are also joined by Dr. Jennifer Uehling, an assistant professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and self-described movement ecologist. Hi, Jenny. How are you doing?

[Jennifer Uehling] Hi Monique. It’s great to be here. I’m doing well.

[Monique Pipkins] Good to have you. That’s happening. And finally we have Brendon Samuels, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biology at Western University in Canada, where he works out of the Center for Animals on the Move Hi, Brendon.

[Brendon Samuels] Hello.

[Monique Pipkins] All right. And thank you so much for you all taking the time to be here with us. We’ll be hearing more from our panelists soon after a few announcements. Panelists, feel free to turn your cameras off while I continue to get everyone else up to speed.

Today’s webinar is hosted from Ithaca, New York where both Cornell University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are located. This is also where I personally conduct all of my PhD research. It is important to recognize the original stewards of this land and the peoples who have a historical and continued connection to this place, and the traditional ecological knowledge held and shared from these communities. Please stay with me while I read a brief statement acknowledging and made in collaboration with the Indigenous people of this area.

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohónǫ’ or the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohónǫ’ 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 Gayogohónǫ’ dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of the Gayogohónǫ’ people, past and present, to these lands and waters. All right, thanks.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds and 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 a part of our two-week migration celebration, the lab’s largest online event of the year. And you can check out all of our virtual programs as well as recorded seminars on the migration celebration 2023 website, which is

A few quick tech-related announcements. Closed captioning is available on Zoom. Click the Closed Captioning or CC button to turn them on or off. For those of you on Zoom, click on the Q&A button located at the bottom of your screen to type in your questions into the Q&A. We’ll be answering some questions verbally and for others, we’ll be typing them out, which you be able to find in the answered column.

Please only use the Zoom chat function for technical support. I have colleagues who are behind the scenes and responding to both the Zoom Q&A and chat functions. We’re also streaming live on YouTube. So if you’re watching from the Cornell labs YouTube page, you can add your questions to the comment section there

OK, so let’s get started. To begin, the panelists will share a bit about their research and tips to help support migratory birds. Jacob, I will have you start us off. And while you get your slides prepared, I’ll share a bit more about Jacob’s work. In addition to Jacobs associate director duties, he is a National Geographic Explorer. He spends many days a year traveling to wilderness areas to record natural sounds and using those recordings to engage the public in conversations about public lands protection and conservation.

You can find his work featured online and in visitor centers of Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, and at Scientific American. All right, and Jacob, I will hand it on over to you.

[Jacob Job] Hi, Monique, does everything look good on your end?

[Monique Pipkins] Everything looks great.

[Jacob Job] Great, thanks. I’m pretty excited to be here. I study migratory birds. I’ve studied migratory birds for pretty much all of my adult life and I always like want to dive into the details. But before we get into the details of what I want to talk about, I want to just start out with one fact and then we’ll jump into another fact about halfway through that I think we should all just sort ground ourselves with.

And it’s this question that you see in front of you which is, what percentage of North American birds are migratory? And you can go ahead and throw your guesses in the chat if you like. But I’m going to put it up there right now and that percentage is 70%. So 7 out of every 10 species in North America are migratory. So a lot of species, a lot of individual birds. And so it’s very worthwhile that we are all here today to talk about how we can protect that many species, that many individuals. So just a fun fact to ground us in what we’re talking about.

So as Monique mentioned, I am the associate director of the Bird Genoscape Project at Colorado State University. Essentially, the Bird Genoscape Project is kind of like a 23andMe or an for migratory birds. And what I mean by that is we are able to take DNA from migratory birds, let’s take a species example, we’ll say Wilson’s warbler. Not all Wilson’s warblers are created the same.

So we take DNA samples from Wilson’s warblers across North America we look at their DNA and we are able to lump different populations of Wilson’s warblers together. And I’ll show you what I mean by that here in a second. But the thing that you should take away is not all Wilson’s warblers are the same, just like not all humans are the same. We all have genetic differences that lump together based on where we come from, our ancestry. And birds are no different.

All of this work begins with a DNA sample and most of our DNA samples come from a single plucked feather from a bird. Our collection here at Colorado State has somewhere over 200,000 feather samples from birds across the Western hemisphere. We are able to take the DNA that is attached to the end of a bird feather, the part of the feather that sticks into the bird, extract it and do all of our work from that little amount of DNA.

So going back to our Wilson’s warbler example that I mentioned, what you see here is a range map of Wilson’s warblers across North America. Now, typically, a range map you would see for any species would have all one color for where that bird lives during the breeding season. So I think probably this color would normally be orange for breeding Wilson’s warblers.

But with our work, what we’re able to show is Wilson’s warblers are actually divided into roughly six genetically distinct populations across North America. And you can see those different populations that are color coded. The Eastern population over in Eastern Canada and the far Northeast United States in red, the Western Boreal in green and so on and so forth. And you can even see small, but again, genetically distinct populations there in coastal California and the California Sierras.

And so all of these birds that live in these populations are slightly different than each other. They have different capacities for adapting to changes in their environment. They have different routes of migration, and they even live in different places during the non-breeding season.

How do we know that? Well, once we have this, what we call this map that you’re looking at is a genoscape, once we have the genoscape made, we’re then able to say to our partners along the migratory routes or on the wintering grounds, if you catch Wilson’s warblers, pluck their feathers send them to us and then we can find out where those birds come from.

What I mean by that, so on the right is a map of birds who’ve had their feathers plucked on the wintering grounds, those feathers came back to us. And we can see which populations those birds came from. And so if you look at the coastal California population, that is orange on the genoscape map on the left, we can see that those birds spend the winter in Baja, California and Northern Mexico. You can see all those orange dots. Those are individual birds that were caught in the wintering grounds.

And each of the other populations are represented there. So the yellow, Pacific Northwest population, we see mostly winters again, Baja, California, along the Coast of Northern Mexico and maybe a little bit down into Central Mexico. And you can see how the rest of those populations sort of partition themselves Why is this important? In conservation, there’s a fundamental truth that limits us from doing our work. We have a limited amount of energy and resources to do that work, money and people power.

It’s important that, because we have those limited resources, that we put them where they are needed most. For instance, if a population of Wilson’s warblers are declining more rapidly than the other populations, we’re going to want to put that money in those resources, that energy, to figure out what’s going on with that specific population rather than throwing resources at other populations that are doing just fine. And so we can hone in our conservation efforts using this work and using this approach.

So this is one of your action items, how you can help migratory birds. You can send us samples. So if any of you are bird banders, if any of you are licensed or permitted to collect bird samples, we are actively collecting bird feathers throughout the year every year. You can visit our website at There’s a page where you can read more about how you can send us samples, what are the protocols for collecting those samples, and how you can get the information you need to make sure that those samples make it safely to us.

So that’s part one of what I want to talk about. Part two, go back to our grounding truths. So what percentage of migratory birds are migratory or what percentage of North American birds are migratory? 70%. What percent of North American birds migrate at night? Big question and it’s surprising how many people are way off in this number. The truth is the vast majority of them migrate at night. 80% of migratory birds migrate at night. I don’t know how many of you knew that already, but it’s a pretty eye popping number.

That poses lots of challenges because this phenomenon of migration is literally shrouded in darkness. And so it makes it much more difficult to understand what’s going on. Fortunately, the members at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, some of the members, have created a website called BirdCast. And what you’re looking at here is one of the products of BirdCast which is a migratory prediction map.

So this is for tonight, what’s going to happen tonight. Cornell’s BirdCast is predicting that over 330 million birds are going to be in migration across the United States. The places that you see are in bright white or yellow or orange, that’s where migration is the heaviest, the places that are in purple, that’s where migration is least heavy, and then anything in gray outlined in white, those are areas where precipitation is projected to happen.

And so Cornell built this tool for us to be able to predict where across the United States and beyond, we can expect to see migratory birds on the move. It’s a really cool tool. Unfortunately, this just gives us a count of birds. It doesn’t really break down which species are moving, where they’re moving, and when they’re moving.

To do that, we have a group of people across the United States, across Canada, and beyond around the world that are turning their microphones to the sky to record the flight calls of these birds when they migrate at night. So each species, they deliver these species specific calls that we can record with microphones and then we can analyze the data after they’ve flown over our houses or over wherever. And then we can start to pick apart, which species are on the move where and when.

What that looks like real quickly. So here’s a recording you might be able to hear of Swainson’s thrush is flying over my house last year. Those little dots, those are Swainson’s thrush calls. That’s a train. This is just in my backyard. That night I had thousands of Swainson’s thrushes flying over. If you want to listen to this, I have a link at the bottom where you can listen to this recording and others.

From those recordings, I’ve been able to look at and count how many species are flying over my house. This is by date over the last calendar year. You can see some days are really busy, some days are not so busy. We had a really busy day this last May, which was quite incredible.

For Swainson’s thrushes, I can look at them in particular. We can see when they’re flying over my house. You see Swainson’s thrushes are moving largely in the spring over my house in May. We do get a few that occur during the fall, but certainly not like the spring.

And so this is your last action item. If you are interested in joining this network of flight call monitors, you should reach out to the people at Cornell University or reach out to myself and I can let you know how. And if you really want to know how, I just put out a podcast with Scientific American called the nighttime bird surveillance network under Science Quickly. You can listen to all five episodes to learn about how you can get involved with monitoring nocturnally migrating birds. Thank you.

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thank you so much, Jacob. I didn’t realize 80% of migrating birds migrate at night. That is a wild number. So thank you for sharing that information.

[Jacob Job] Yeah, you’re welcome.

[Monique Pipkins] And as always, if anyone has any questions for Jacob, please feel free to put it into the Q&A or into the Facebook comment section and we’ll get to those questions at the end of today’s webinar. All right, and then next up we have Jenny. Jenny will share a little bit more about movement of birds. And while you set up, Jenny, I will do a little introduction on you.

Jenny is a former Cornell University grad and an avian behavioral ecologist. She’s especially interested in the causes and consequences of differences in foraging behavior. . Jenny thinks about where birds go and why her research uses tools like radio telemetry, DNA metabarcoding, and hormone measurements to explore bird behavior. Jenny, I can’t wait to see what you have to share. So I will let you get started.

[Jennifer Uehling] Awesome. Thanks, Monique. And is everything showing up OK? I’m going to take no response. OK, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. I am currently a professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, but I graduated from Cornell. And so I’m really excited to be back virtually with the Lab of Ornithology.

OK. So obviously we’re all here because we care about migrating birds and we want to do something to help them. But one thing I think it’s really important to understand is that there is still so much that we need to learn about migrating birds. There’s so much of their basic biology that we still don’t understand. And so today, I’m going to be telling you a little bit about two types of technologies that I’ve used and others have used to try to understand more of the basic biology of these birds so we can take better actions to protect them.

So the two technologies I’ll be talking about today are tracking technologies, such as radio tags, and DNA metabarcoding of feces so we can identify what birds are eating during their migration. And then I’ll end today with talking a little bit about what you can do with what researchers discover with these two types of technologies.

So let’s start off with tracking technologies. So first off, why should we even track migrating birds? Why do we need to know where they are going? Well, tracking migrating birds can be really important in helping us to pinpoint important habitat for them, especially stopover spots. These are places where birds pause their migrations and stop to rest and refuel.

And so tracking technologies can help us identify where those spots are so we can better protect them. And this is especially important for species that are vulnerable or endangered because it’s super vital that we identify the paths they’re taking and protect the specific stopover habitats that are important for their successful migration.

So how can we figure out where birds go? There’s a lot of different ways that we can do this. And today, I’m going to be focusing on just one class of ways that we can track them and that is with tags. So when we think about tags used to track migrating birds, there’s a couple of different considerations at play. And one really important thing to note is that size really matters when it comes to tracking technologies.

So you’ll notice here I have a photograph of a California condor. This is a huge, huge bird, and if you look at its left wing, you’ll notice that there is a little tag on that wing. You can see the antenna sticking out. And California condors are a great species from a tracking technology perspective because they can carry really big tags. So they’re such big birds that we can put things like satellite tags and cellular tags on these birds and they barely notice it because it’s just such a small percentage of their body weight.

But when we consider smaller birds, like many of our songbird migrants, these birds are, in some cases, the same weight as some of those satellite tags or cellular tags that you might put on California condors for example. And so we really have to get more creative with how to track these types of birds. Satellite tags give us really cool maps with pinpoints of exactly where birds were at specific times. But with smaller songbirds, we have to pursue other options.

OK. So for my research over the past many years, I’ve been using radio tags, which are a class of tracking technologies. And radio tags are a lot smaller than some of those other tags I mentioned before. I believe one of the tags in this photo is just 0.6 grams. So really, really tiny. And these are a type of tag that continually emit a specific signal. So every couple of seconds, it’ll send out a signal saying, basically, this is the identity of this tag over and over again.

And these transmissions are received by antennas that we set up across the continent. So this is a photograph of an antenna in Cape May, New Jersey that I set up. And I’ve been using these tags on different species such as sanderlings, which are a species of shorebird, and tree swallows which are a species of songbird.

And the specific tags that I use, I think, are pretty cool because they have solar panels on them. So that really helps us when it comes to weight because oftentimes if tags are powered by batteries, that makes them extra heavy. But if a tag is powered by the sun, that means that we don’t have to have a battery attached. So we can get even smaller. And these tags are produced by cellular tracking technologies and are really, really cool little gizmos that we can use to figure out where these birds are going.

So to give you a sense of what this might look like in practice, I tagged a tree swallow in Ithaca during my PhD in Central New York in June 2018. And we had a tracking station up there with antennas. So we knew around when it left the Ithaca area. And then when it left for its migration, we caught it going through Cape May, New Jersey. So we got transmissions from this bird on antennas all around Cape May in late August and early September. So that was really cool to see exactly where the bird was and that it was using this specific site as a stopover point on its migration.

So what I described to you is just a small microcosm of what’s going on across the entire two continents, North and South America and beyond. There’s an amazing network called the Motus wildlife tracking system, where there are these receiver antennas, those little yellow dots, all over North and South America.

And they’re constantly listening for transmissions from these ultra light radio tags. So we can get some really cool information about where birds are going, where they’re stepping over, and where they’re spending their time. So if you’re interested in learning more about this, you can scan that QR code and it will take you to the Motus website.

OK, so getting on to my second type of technology I’m going to be talking about today. I also use DNA metabarcoding of feces to figure out what birds are eating. So first off, why would it be important to understand what birds are eating? Well, it helps us to identify what food items birds might be depending on during different stages of their lives. And it can also help us to distinguish what types of diets might lead to better survival chances.

So to give you a brief example of that, this is a figure from some work I’ve done with others in the past where we found that birds, specifically nestling tree swallows, they eat more diverse diets, have a higher likelihood of fledging. And so in this work, we identified that the specific diet characteristic, dietary diversity is especially important for these birds.

And it’s extra important to understand what birds might need during migration because if you consider going out and running a marathon, for example, these birds are doing that 12 dozens of times over, and so they’re really burning a lot of energy. And so it’s especially important for us to understand what types of foods they need during the specific time in their lives.

So how does fecal DNA metabarcoding work? It’s one of my favorite techniques because it’s so easy, I mean, in some ways. You just take a poop sample from a bird and you can learn all about what the bird was eating. So you have to collect a fecal sample from a bird, and then from there, you do some lab techniques to extract all of the DNA from that poop. And then you use those DNA sequences to figure out what the bird was actually eating. You match up the sequences with pre-existing sequences of the types of organisms that bird could have eaten.

So in a lot of my work, I work with aerial insectivores. And so these birds are eating insects and so I’m able to match up the DNA in that bird’s poop with the insects that they’re eating. And just to give you a brief example of what this looks like in practice. So this is another figure from some work that I’ve done with others, and we looked at all of the different insect families that tree swallows were eating. So tree swallows are a migratory species of aerial insectivore.

And we found that they’re eating lots of different families of bugs, both aquatic and terrestrial and bugs that spend time in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. And one of the most exciting findings for me from this was seeing that tree swallows are eating mosquitoes. So it’s nice that they’re taking care of this pest insect in some ways for us.

But like I mentioned earlier, we still need a lot more information about what’s happening during migration, especially when it comes to what these birds are eating. So some of my future work will focus on identifying how diet might affect exposure to pollutants for birds and what types of foods birds are specifically relying on during their migration.

So to quickly wrap up here and get into what you can do with what researchers discover in the realm of tracking technologies and diet. When it comes to tracking technologies, it’s really important for us to protect habitats that are identified as important for stopover. And these habitats can be really large. They can also be really small. So even small patches like a tiny island or a little patch of green in an urban area can be really important for these birds.

And similarly, once we identify the stopovers that are important, it’s super vital that we not disturb birds while they are refueling or resting. So not having dogs off leash, not letting cats outdoors, and birding from a distance. So not disturbing birds while they’re refueling and resting.

When it comes to snacks, what these birds are eating, we can make really good habitat for birds by making prime foraging areas in our yards. So planting native plants and providing places for birds to hide from predators while they’re foraging makes a really nice little mini-stopover habitat in your own backyard. And then additionally, avoiding using herbicides and pesticides is really important because we know that oftentimes these chemicals can get into insects that birds eat. And recent research has actually suggested that that can negatively affect their movement.

So those are just a couple of things that you can do and I’m sure we’ll get into more in the Q&A section. So thank you so much all for listening. I wanted to acknowledge many of the people that have helped with this work in the past, as well as Charlotte Holden for the beautiful swallow illustrations and many funding sources. I’m going to stop sharing right now and I’m happy to answer any of your questions in the chat or in the live Q&A.

[Monique Pipkins] Yeah, thank you so much for sharing about the different movement technologies. I really appreciate that, Jenny. And again, you can always ask any questions you have for Jenny in the Q&A function. We’re going to primarily answer questions over there and feel free to put any questions you have in the Facebook chat as well. All right, thanks, Jenny. And next up we have Brendon. Brendon, I will let you get started getting ready to share. While you do that, I will give you a little more of an introduction.

Brendon Samuels is a student bird biologist, native plant enthusiast, and community organizer. His research focuses on solutions for preventing bird window collisions, both from an avian visual point of view and interfacing biology with new product development and policy. Brendon has authored numerous petitions about conservation issues addressed to all levels of government, and offers guidance to others about environmental advocacy. He is passionate about translating knowledge of bird conservation issues into applied solutions. All right, Brendon, take it away. And your slides look great.

[Brendon Samuels] Thank you, everyone. It’s great to be here. Thank you for that introduction. I’m really excited to talk to you today about how we can mobilize solutions into society through partnerships and collaboration. The theme for my presentation is that really birds are connective in a lot of ways. And I’ll touch on some examples of this, but I think that’s really important framing.

This is where I live. I’m in London, Ontario. You can see it kind of positioned on the map on the right. And something I like about living in London, Ontario is that, as you can see, there’s green space sort of scattered throughout the city. And often we have green spaces attached to our river that runs through. It’s called the Thames River, just like London is named after its counterpart overseas. And while we have a lot of green space in our city, we also have a lot of areas where there’s not much green space, more parking lots and urban development. And I live in one such area.

And so for that reason, I decided that I wanted to naturalize. My yard I wanted to plant many native species because it occurred to me there wasn’t a lot of good habitat in my neighborhood where there’s a lot of turfgrass and a lot of pavement. And this has brought so many interesting migratory birds to my yard that I only ever really see in those critical green spaces elsewhere where I live. For example, I have Swainson’s thrush visiting my yard for the first time since I started planting these native species which feeds insects that birds depend on.

And the Swainson’s thrush is an example of a migratory bird we’ve already heard about today. This bird in my backyard could be in the United States a few weeks from now. It could be down in Mexico or South America not long after that. And so the same individual bird that I’m looking at and taking care of in my backyard is being enjoyed far away and providing services really far away.

I run a little grassroots program in London called Bird Friendly London. We’re part of the bird friendly cities network that’s offered by Nature Canada. We’ve got our official city bird, the Northern Cardinal, people call it the big red one, very beloved around here. And there are bird friendly cities all across the country now that are working towards these shared objectives of conserving birds and getting people educated and excited about conserving birds, again, those connective pieces.

It’s not just in Canada though, even in the United States, there’s now a bird city network with hundreds of communities taking part. And this extends past, the United States into Mexico and even in Colombia and South America. Again, that same individual Swainson’s thrush could be connecting all of these places together throughout its migratory range.

So you’re probably familiar with this, Cornell has published a lot of really good education materials about actions to help birds. And if you’re like me and you really are worried about extinction and helping birds, you’ve probably tried, to some extent, to take on these actions in your day to day life. I know that, for my part, I’ve done a lot of these, for example, here’s what my window looks like at home.

It was mentioned that I study bird window collisions. So my interest is how do we design different patterns for glass and glazing and such that is compatible with how birds actually see these things, and then modernizing policy to be consistent with that. And so I’m not going to talk too much about window collisions today, although I’m happy to answer questions. I would encourage you to look into this subject though. American Bird Conservancy provides a really good information at the link on my slide.

Just a side note, you don’t want to be using cut outs of birds of prey decals or individual stickers. This is a popular misconception and I’ll illustrate that reason here. Even those ultraviolet decals do not work unless you cover your entire window with them. And the red circle is actually a smudge left by a bird that had hit a treated window. What’s really important is that whatever you put on your glass needs to cover the entire surface like the dots you see here.

So having adopted some solutions in my day-to-day life, simple actions to help birds, I wonder how do we scale this up to really address the problem on a global scale? And I think what we need to do is start scaling these things through conversations we have in our communities, with our neighbors, with politicians. And I’m going to talk about some tools that we’ve developed here in London to really start those conversations and advocate so that more and more people are taking on those actions.

For example, here’s our yard sign. This is actually on my front lawn. And we distribute these in the community and they highlight those actions. I have so many good conversations with neighbors passing by who show an interest in this sign. And they ask about the dots on my window and they ask about the plants in my garden. And so this kind of outreach is really impactful.

We actually have a really great website for Bird Friendly London that provides these education resources for anyone anywhere in the world. And we always try and design things in ways that can be adapted for use in other communities. I don’t have time to talk about all of these, but if you’re curious, I would encourage you to visit And this part of our website is really focused on supporting those conversations. I will talk about one though, which is the first one you see here about cats.

Moving forward in my talk, I’m going to try and share some lessons learned in doing this kind of outreach and engagement with people. Lesson number one, it’s very important that when you’re talking about birds and conserving birds, you need to make that message personal, linking it to what your audience values.

Now, there’s a lot of good things going for birds. A lot of people really like them and birds are beneficial to human beings in a lot of ways. We know that birds provide essential services that we depend on, such as pest insect control. This is a Canada warbler, which is a species at risk. And so it’s providing an important service and is needing protection. But there are going to be people who don’t know about birds, who might not care as much about birds, and yet they have a part to play too. So how do we link this to what’s important to them?

This is another sign from my street. It’s cat crossing sign and this is an area where we see a lot of free roaming pet cats unfortunately, which as has been discussed, does pose issues for bird conservation. What we developed is a passive way of providing education to the owners of those cats. If I see a feral or free roaming cat, usually a pet cat, visiting my yard, I will fix a collar on it and the collar has a QR code. If that cat goes home wearing a QR code around its neck like this one did, the owner will likely scan the QR code.

And what it pulls up is a letter, an anonymous letter that we’ve written to the owner of the cat which explains the dangers of roaming for their pet’s safety. This letter does not really talk about birds or biodiversity. It’s talking about their pet and what’s important to keep their pets safe, and also some opportunities for their owner to take good care of their animal and enjoy spending time outside, such as through leash training or building a catio and that sort of thing.

We’ve also provided public education for owners of new cats because we discovered that often when people get a pet cat, they don’t learn about the option to train their cat to wear a leash and harness until it’s much older. And it can be more difficult at that point. And so we produce these education materials, really family friendly, and we circulated them to community partners such as cat adoption agencies.

Lesson number two, birds are for everybody, but not everybody enjoys equal access to birds. So for example, something that we find in our community is a lot of people enjoy feeding birds, but unfortunately, feed them the wrong things. We see a lot of people feeding birds bread, especially ducks and geese. And in having conversations with those community members, we learned that a lot of them not only were not aware, but they don’t have access to the means to feed birds properly. They can’t necessarily afford to go to the store and buy a big bag of bird seed.

And so we organized a campaign to give out free bags of bird seed, specifically to people who are experiencing homelessness into low income households through partnerships with our local public library. And with each bag of bird seed, you can see a bunch of motivated elementary school students helping us pack up the bags. We provided an information card thanking people for what they’re doing for birds and providing them with that education piece.

Another similar motive for creating access is treating windows, like what I showed you in my backyard. If cost is a barrier for some people, particularly in low income families, they might not be thinking about prioritizing bird safety. And so we motivated our municipal government to sponsor the purchase of 212 of these window retrofitting kits and we’re now distributing them through our local food bank, which is really exciting and we’re happy to be including people in the community who want to do good work.

Lesson number three, changing old ways begins with conversation. There’s a lot of things that we have become really accustomed to in our society. Think policies and practices that were developed before we knew that birds were in trouble. And how do we begin to change that? I think that work needs to happen at different scales.

Remember I showed you my front lawn that I’ve naturalized, well, as you can expect in a neighborhood full of turfgrass, not a lot of people are aware of what this is important and why this is important. And I even received a complaint about my yard that said we need to cut all grass and weeds to below 8 inches, which is not really feasible if you’re naturalizing.

And so this led to us having a community conversation and going to City Hall and talking to the city about the bylaw that my notice was received under. And we’re now actually working with the city to develop stronger education so that people can be aware of the rules, not just for how to keep their yard satisfying the bylaw requirements, but also rules for complainants so they understand the purpose of naturalization.

A lot of the conversations we have with community happen in settings like this. There can be one-on-one. It’s more casual. Attending events with these kinds of booths has led to a lot of windows being treated by people who, otherwise, wouldn’t be knowledgeable. And so extending that helping hand and having conversations is really, really valuable.

But of course, we need to look beyond individual action towards policy. How can we influence the entire landscape for bird conservation? A lot of municipalities and states are introducing ordinances and bylaws requiring that new building construction is made safe for birds. This has happened in New York City. It’s happening across Ontario, where I live. I would encourage you to find out, does your municipality have a policy for this. Are we ensuring that larger new buildings that require a site plan here? Are those being built according to bird safe design principles?

And of course, we need to look even beyond that. So looking towards not just municipalities where every different jurisdiction has a different requirements, how can we standardize this and make sure it’s consistent across the board? Well, we’re advocating for that in the form of legislation. Similar work is happening in the United States with the Bird Safe Buildings Act in Ontario. We’ve been advocating for updates to our building code to harmonize bird safe requirements everywhere.

And here are pictures of me attending Queen’s Park speaking at a press conference with a member of provincial parliament about introducing legislation that would require this in our code. And I’m putting this here because this still has not happened. We’ve still not seen the change made, but we’ve had a lot of good conversations. We’ve informed a lot of people. And I think it’s really important to reflect on, as you are doing this kind of advocacy, nothing changes overnight. You should plan for failure. You should expect that it’s going to take many attempts, and you need to find allies to work with who can catch you when you fall and build back better.

My last lesson, and I’ll close here, is just try your best. Do what you can and remember to always be kind, not just to other people who might not be as knowledgeable as you, but to yourself for recognizing that you can’t carry the weight of mass extinction on your shoulders alone. If everybody just did a little bit more and had these conversations and encouraged others, we would get far pretty quickly. And so I want to end there. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me and I look forward to your questions.

[Monique Pipkins] Thank you so much for sharing all those actionable items and things we can do to help protect birds, Brendon. I really appreciate that. And as always, if anyone has any questions for Brendon directly or for any of our speakers, feel free to put them into the Q&A at the bottom of the Zoom or into the Facebook chat. And a huge thank you to all of our panelists for sharing about their work and how it intersects with migration and conservation.

And now we’ll be switching gears a bit to answer some of your questions, and we’re going to start with the pre-submitted one. This came up a couple of times in the pre-submitted questions and you guys have all touched on this, which is, what are the things you can do to help birds during migration?

And some of you shared a bit about what experts can do or people who have specific permits, collection permits and approval for sampling, like, fecal samples, blood samples, or feather samples, which you need to have permissions in order to do so. Can you each go back and share at least one or two things about what an everyday person can do to help birds during migration?

[Jacob Job] I guess I’ll jump in since I went first. Yeah, that’s a tough tough one because so much of what I talked about requires those permits. But going back to the nocturnal flight call monitoring, I think it’s important to recognize that, yeah, there’s a bit of a learning curve there, there’s some equipment required, but it’s available to anybody and anybody with the want to can learn how to do this.

And the data that you collect can be submitted to eBird and other places. And those data will contribute to our understanding of the patterns of movements of migratory birds across North America, across the Western hemisphere, across the world. And so from my perspective, that’s the number one place you could get involved with helping us understand what’s going on up there at night beyond just raw numbers, which species are moving, when they’re moving, where they’re moving. That stuff, we still don’t know a lot about

[Monique Pipkins] Great, thank you. Does anyone else have any other recommendations for the general public on how they can help birds during migration?

[Jennifer Uehling] I’ll jump in here and just briefly say, I mentioned this in my presentation, that I think one really important thing to keep in mind about birds when they’re migrating is that if they are not actively flying during migration, they’re stopped and resting. They’re probably really tired and hungry. If you can imagine going on a marathon and what you would want to do after running a marathon is probably sit down and rest and then eat something.

So I think it’s really important to remember that these birds are in a pretty difficult state, and so it’s especially vital that you avoid cats being around them, avoid having your dog off leash, for example, on a beach. This is a big issue for our migrating shorebirds. And if you are observing them and going out and birding, just making sure that you’re keeping a safe distance and letting them do their thing

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thanks, Jenny. Brendon, do you have anything to add to this question?

[Brendon Samuels] Yeah, I’d be happy to. It’s a great question and there’s many answers to it. I think one of the simplest things we can do is ensure that private land, like your backyard, is encouraging birds to recognize it as habitat. And one of the simplest ways you can do that is just don’t rake your leaves in the fall.

A lot of insects that birds depend on for food rely on the leaf litter. They actually kind of go underneath the leaves and into the ground and they’ll hibernate over the winter or they’ll lay their eggs down there. And birds that migrate early, as in the Swainson’s thrush that I showed, you they will come back to their breeding grounds earlier than some other birds and they to look for food under the leaf litter. They know that’s where the bugs are and they need that protein for their journey.

And so ensuring that you’re not tidying your entire yard, I’m not saying you can’t have any area cleared for lawn or recreation, but if you can leave a part that just has natural cover, you’ve got leaves that have fallen from the tree, you’ve got plant stems left over from the previous winter where there could be insects in the stems, that’s really, really important and birds will rely on that, sometimes even more than visiting your bird feeder.

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thank you so much for all of those tips, you guys. And you’re going to lead us right into the next question, which has come up in the Q&A and also in the pre-submitted questions, which is, how do birds know when to migrate and where to stop, and how do they remember these areas? So feel free, everyone, to take that question first, feel free.

[Jennifer Uehling] I can start, and I’m sure others can jump in. So we know a little bit about how birds figure out when to migrate. We know that the timing of the length of days really matters. So they are attuned to the solar cycles. We know that temperature can matter. So as it gets warmer or colder, we know that things like green up matter. So if we’re thinking about spring migration, birds seeing green leaves coming out could cue them to start migrating.

When it comes to stopover sites, we know that some birds have what’s called stopover site fidelity, which means that every single year they stop at the same place as they’re migrating. One example of that is the Delaware Bay for shorebirds. So a lot of shorebirds really rely on that area for good food sources. And there are some species that don’t have stopover site fidelity. So they’re not always, we don’t think, stopping in the same area. It just depends a little bit on the species. And I’ll let Jacob and Brendon jump in here to.

[Brendon Samuels] I can speak to that a little bit. I’m not really a migration researcher so this is outside my area of expertise, but I’ve spent a good amount of time around them and have learned through absorbing knowledge. Different species of birds likely use different cues. Birds are very diverse, of course, and I think they’re using a complex variety of cues frankly. And some of the environmental cues may be more or less reliable, particularly under climate change. And we’re still scratching the surface of understanding how climate change is going to be impacting the timing of migration for different species.

In general, a principle to keep in mind is birds go where the food is. And so they are migrating where they know there’s going to be resources. Jenny talked about stopover sites, but birds also sort of anticipate, OK, there’s going to be food when I get there and then further on to their overwintering or breeding grounds. And so there’s a variety of environmental cues that can suggest, OK, the leaves are coming in, temperatures are rising. Those are all indicators that insects are going to be more abundant. I talked about birds are very connective. So birds are definitely linked to all of the other parts of the ecosystem that they’re interacting with.

[Monique Pipkins] Yeah, thank you so much. Also Brendon, a question for you. Someone asked previously, can you see migrating birds in Canada since your local Canadian in this webinar? Can you speak to that at all?

[Brendon Samuels] We definitely see a lot of migratory birds in Canada. We have some– I live in the very Southern part of Canada, which is fairly mild. And so we have some species that are even partial migrants, where they don’t go all the way far South because there’s a lot of bird feeding that happens here and a lot of fruit bearing plants that kind of persist over the winter months.

There are some species like the Northern Cardinal, which is our city bird, that can be seen here all year. But definitely, there are birds that migrate through Southern Ontario. Often they’re on their way up or returning from the boreal forest, which is where many species breed.

[Monique Pipkins] Yeah, thank you so much. And I– yes, please, please.

[Jacob Job] I would like to say to another shout out to Canada, those boreal forests are the breeding grounds for most of the birds– I don’t want to say most, I’m going to say a lot. Many, many, many much of the biomass of birds on this planet. And so Canada is like the destination in the Western hemisphere. So yes, Canada is very important in this story.

[Monique Pipkins] Thank you so much for sharing a bit more about Canada and our migratory birds. And I know many of us are birders and just enjoy bird watching as well as studying them, do you guys have any tips on how to find out good areas to watch birds during migration? What are the areas or considerations you look for when trying to find a good bird watching place during migration or even timing?

[Jacob Job] The best place to bird watch is wherever you are, wherever you can make time quite honestly. But if you want to get into specifics, for me, it’s places with lots of different habitat types where they come together. So there’s like ecotones or you got grasslands meet forest meet wetlands. Those areas often attract a lot of birds because they have a lot of habitat types and food availability or food resources available to birds. But honestly, just get out and go see birds wherever you can.

[Monique Pipkins] Thank you so much. Now, Brendon, there’s been a couple of questions for you about how to prevent bird strikes. So can you speak a little bit more on that. There are questions about the stickers versus the strips versus– could we use blinds we have at our homes to help prevent bird collisions?

[Brendon Samuels] Yeah, happy to speak to that. The answer is both simple and complicated. What you need to do is you need to create the impression there is a physical barrier here that birds will not try and fly through. , Unfortunately when light is reflected off of windows, it creates a mirrored image. Sometimes that sky, sometimes it’s habitat. And I think that that’s actually a form of pollution because what it’s doing is it’s creating a mirage. It’s an illusion that birds mistake for the real thing.

So if a bird sees a reflected tree, they don’t know that that’s not a real tree and they’re going to try and fly towards it. If you put just one sticker or two stickers or however many but you leave wide gaps, birds are just going to fly around your stickers and hit the untreated part of the window. We see birds doing that really well when they’re flying through brush and vegetation.

And so it’s really important that whatever you put on your window needs to be applied on the outside ideally because that’s what’s going to break up reflection. If you’re closing your blinds on the inside, you can still have a mirrored image on the outside layer of glazing.

And it’s also important that whatever you put on the window covers the entire surface edge to edge without leaving gaps much wider than a bird. So recommended usually 5 centimeters by 5 centimeter or 2-inch by 2-inch spacing is great. And that’s why dot patterns are really popular because they don’t seem to impact visibility through the window very much. But it’s not limited to dots. You can draw lines, you can add strips of tape, people will hang curtains of string outside the window.

I recognize that sometimes accessing the outside of a window isn’t possible if you’re in a high rise building, for example. And so what I would encourage you to do is play around with it a little bit, go outside and look at the window with different treatments applied on the inside, maybe you adding bright colored post-its on the inside.

If you can see that at different times of day from outside, it’s more likely to produce a visual signal birds will notice. But again, it’s really recommended, if you can, to treat the exterior surface. There’s really good information provided by American Bird Conservancy as well as Flap Canada, who I work with, about different solutions for treating your windows

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thank you so much for sharing more about that. And then I do want to ask this question because it’s come up a couple of times. We’re seeing some more extreme weather patterns with there’s some wildfires happening. Do you know or can you make any predictions about how birds migration patterns are being altered or maybe changed by any of these extreme weather patterns we are currently seeing? Or if you need more information in time please share that too.

[Jacob Job] I’ll just real quickly. I had a student, an undergraduate student, look at this question in 2020. We had a massive wildfire season out here in Colorado that just shattered all sorts of records. And our question was using those nocturnal flight call monitoring techniques that I mentioned, days where we had heavy smoke up in the air, did that impact the numbers of birds we were counting in those recordings?

And the short answer is we didn’t see a huge impact from that perspective. There are lots of different perspectives in which these wildfires are impacting migratory birds or non-migratory birds. They are having an impact. How they’re having an impact when it comes to migratory birds, we’re still trying to figure that out because the rate and prevalence and size of these fires is increasing. And so this story is sort of unfolding before us right now.

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thank you so much for sharing.

[Brendon Samuels] I would just quickly add to that. It is really tough to tell this early on in terms of climate change. We have seen fallouts of birds kind of dying en masse in places where it’s not historically expected that would be the case. And there is some speculation that birds could be avoiding smoke or changing the timing of their migration. Again, there’s probably going to be differences between the flyways and between different species interacting with environmental change.

The note I wanted to add, though, is that after a landscape has been burned by a fire, birds are some of the earliest animals to return back to those landscapes. And when they come, they’re often dispersing seeds. And so as part of our adaptive response to the increased risk of fires, it’s really important that we’re promoting survival of those migratory species because they’re going to help ensure those forests and ecosystems recover.

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thank you so much. And we’re kind of coming to the end of our webinar today. So I have one final question to ask all of you. Can you each name one or two recommendations or items to include when you’re educating the public about how to protect birds. And I can call on your names or if anyone’s to unmute themselves to go first, feel free to do so now.

[Brendon Samuels] And I can go first, sure.

[Monique Pipkins] OK.

[Brendon Samuels] If you have a pet, and I have pets, your pet is an extension of you. That’s your responsibility. And so not all of the impacts of your pet are ones that you can notice. If your cat is going out and hunting birds, roaming by itself, you’re not going to be aware of the damage it’s causing.

If you are visiting a natural area and you let your dog run without a leash, you’re not going to be aware of the animals that it disturbs. It could be even impacting their breeding, even if it doesn’t show up with an animal in its mouth. And so recognizing that your pet has an environmental impact, it’s up to you to take responsibility and be proactive, training your animal when they’re young and also conversing with other pet owners in your circle to make sure that they’re understanding.

[Monique Pipkins] Thank you. Jenny, can I have you go next and give a tip on how to educate the public or they should know

[Jennifer Uehling] Yeah. So I think that– so Brendon talked a little bit already about pets and about making sure that birds aren’t extra stress during migration. I think I’ll just extend off of that. This is something we’ve already talked about a fair amount. But you can make your garden into a really wonderful stopover site for birds. And if you put in these efforts, you’ll start to see more and more species start showing up that maybe you’ve never even seen before.

And I think your garden and the area in your neighborhood can also serve as a good start talking point to start getting other people interested in this too, like, talking about the birds that you see, encouraging others to be more aware of the world around them is, I think, a really important step that just will broadly help birds.

[Monique Pipkins] All right, thank you. And I’m going to then end off with Jacob.

[Jacob Job] Yeah, I think the last point that Jenny just made was starting in your backyard is super critical. Everybody wants to go to the hotspots, where the hotspots get studied over and over again while the non-hotspots are often forgotten. And so we have these blanks in the map that need to be filled in. So encouraging people to just get out in their backyards in their neighborhood, I think, is wonderful. But the biggest thing, for me, is just having conversations with each other about these things because it’s incredibly common.

I find that I go talk to people who otherwise you would think have nothing in common. And you talk about our relationship with the outdoors and we end up having a wonderful and fruitful conversation about the outdoors, about conservation, about birds, whatever it may be. And so I think it’s getting back to a place of finding that commonality between all of us and recognizing that we all do care about the outdoors. If we tone down the levels and just find that commonality, we can do a lot of good from that perspective.

[Monique Pipkins] Yeah. thank you so much for sharing those ideas, guys. A huge thank you to the audience for asking such great questions during this webinar and pre-submitting some of your questions. Jacob, Jenny, Brandon, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your work and your experience and share any advice that we’ve been trying to glean from today. And I also want to thank the audience for joining today as well.

We will be emailing our attendees at the conclusion of the migration celebration with recordings and resources from today’s talk. Remember to check the migration celebration website for more free events, activities, and resources. And if you enjoyed today’s program, please consider becoming a Cornell Lab member by visiting All right, have a great day, everyone. Goodbye.

End of transcript

Migration season is a precarious time for birds, but the more we understand about bird biology and behavior, the easier we can make their journeys. In this webinar, our panel of experts will share insights from their research and how their work helps us understand how we can better protect birds. Join Dr. Jacob Job, Dr. Jennifer Uehling, and PhD candidate Brendon Samuels for a fascinating hour at the intersection of science and conservation action.

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

Learn More:
  • If you’re interested in learning how you can transform your yard into a sanctuary for birds year round, check out the Growing Wild: Gardening for Birds and Nature online course. Use the code GardenMC23 at checkout to receive 40% off the listed price!
  • Migration in a sensitive time for birds. Help protecting them by keep your cats inside. Here is a video and answers to some frequently asked questions!
  • Prevent bird window collisions with these tips from the American Bird Conservancy.
  • Follow bird migrations using Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdCast.
  • Join the Nighttime Bird Surveillance Network and learn how to record and monitor migrations at night. Scientific American shares how to get involved!
  • Simply have conversations with people about your shared love for birds and nature. Encourage them to make small changes. Here are 7 simple steps you can share to help protect birds.