[Lisa Kopp] It is noon. We will get started. We have so much to cover today so we want to make sure we’ve got all of the time allotted to talk about this incredible tool BirdCast. So I can have the panelists hop on with their video and we will get started in just a minute introducing them.

Hi, Andrew, Adriaan, and Audrey. I’ll have you guys introduce yourselves in a minute my name is Lisa Kopp. And I’m on the visitor center team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and I will be facilitating today’s conversation.

And we will jump into the good stuff with the wonderful BirdCast team in just a minute. But because today’s webinar is hosted from Ithaca, New York, I want to read a statement acknowledging the indigenous People as the original inhabitants of this land.

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 Gayogoho:no dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogoho:no people, past and present, to these lands and waters.

And for those of you who aren’t familiar, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is home to a community of researchers and supporters from all around the world who appreciate birds and the integral role that they play in our ecosystems. And our mission is to advance leading edge research, which you’ll hear quite a bit about today education, and citizen science that help solve pressing conservation challenges.

So a couple of quick tech notes before we get going. So closed captioning is available on Zoom. If you’d like to turn captions on or off, you can do so by clicking the three dots that say more and either hide or show subtitles. And for today, we are going to be using the Zoom Q&A for questions and the Zoom chat is dedicated for tech issues and we’ll be sharing all sorts of really valuable resources.

If you’ve registered via Zoom, you’ll also receive a follow up email with a number of those resources listed there. We know people are always really eager to be able to follow up with those things. So if– we’re also streaming on Facebook so hello to those of you who live– watching us live on Facebook and we want you to be able to participate in the conversation too. So you can use the Facebook comment section to post your questions and we have colleagues behind the scenes that will be passing those along so we will be able to ask those as well.

So I think that that’s all of the official business that I needed to cover. So we can get started. So thank you again to the BirdCast team for joining us today. Before we get into talking about this incredible new tool, the dashboard, I was hoping to have each of you introduce yourselves. Give us a little bit of background on what you do at the Lab and what led you to working on this team. If we could start, we could have Audrey Adrian and then Andrew.

[Audrey Carlsen] Thanks, Lisa. Hi, everyone. My name is Audrey Carlsen, I was the lead designer and developer on the migration dashboard for the Cornell Lab. I’m relatively new here, I joined about six months ago. So this is the first big project I’ve worked on and I’m really excited to be able to show you all a little bit of what we’ve been doing.

Before joining the Lab, I spent most of my career working in journalism, working kind of at the intersection of data journalism and visual journalism. So building visual stories for news outlets like the New York Times and NPR. And was excited to make a bit of a transition into something that’s been a passion of mine for a while and learning as much as I can from my colleagues about Ornithology and getting out there and birding as much as I can.

[Adriaan Dokter] Hi, everyone. My name is Adriaan Dokter. I’m a researcher here at Cornell Lab since about five years. Originally, I am from the Netherlands. I was a very avid birder there since a young child and I’m very excited now to get to make my hobby my work and my passion. So a lot of the BirdCast analysis, BirdCast is really one of my more main research projects. And, yeah, Andrew, I think I’ll hand it over to you.

[Andrew Farnsworth] Lisa, thank you for hosting us this morning and I’m very thankful for this incredible team. Audrey and Adriaan are wonderful colleagues and collaborators and there are others too. I’m a senior research associate at the Lab of Ornithology based in Manhattan, New York.

And I’ve been interested in birds my whole life. I’m very fortunate as Adriaan suggested, he has to have turned my passion for birds and migration in particular into this position leading BirdCast. And I’ve been involved in the BirdCast project for a long time since the dawn of it almost for more than 20 years when it started as a collaboration among Cornell, Clemson, National Audubon and the National Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia.

So I’m really happy to be speaking to you today. Happy to have this team that’s going to be talking about this really awesome tool and looking forward to getting into it. And by the way, I saw some comments about the background behind me. That is a Charley Harper illustration Mystery of the Missing Migrants all about nocturnal migration speaks right to the core of BirdCast.

[Lisa Kopp] Wonderful. Thank you all again for joining us. So as we mentioned, we’re going to be talking about the new migration dashboard that BirdCast actually just launched yesterday. That was the first official day. So we’re going to get into that but because we know that some of our audience may not be as familiar with BirdCast pre dashboard, we wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about what this work is, what it can do and how people can use it, especially this time of year with spring migration so well underway. So I believe, Adriaan, you’re going to start us out with that?

[Adriaan Dokter] Yeah. Thanks, Lisa. Yeah, it’s an exciting day for us. We’ve been working on this tool for the last almost half a year I think and we’re really excited that it’s finally gone live. Yeah, maybe I should just share my screen and show you what BirdCast is because BirdCast is a lot about what we present to you on the internet. It’s also a research project very much where I’m closely involved with but it’s very much also for you a tool to explore migration yourself.

So if you go to birdcast.info, you will see here right at the top new migration dashboard. And we’ll talk a lot about that today, but we also present a forecast of migration, which you can see in this map right below the dashboard box. And you can see migration is really starting to pick up. It’s pretty hot all over the south of the country.

As Lisa said already, we had a snowstorm here in Ithaca yesterday. So not too much migration last night at least in Ithaca but I was happy to have lots of nice birds around my feeder trying to escape the snow. So there’s definitely migration also here in the north. I had chipping sparrows around my feeder and field sparrows, which I don’t have very often so that’s nice.

And then maybe we should look first here at what migration was last night and that’s what you can explore with a live migration maps. I’m going to click on there. So this is what the radar is across the US, which was radar is a lot the information that we are using.

There’s a network of weather radars all of the US that measure– that can measure bird migration in the night sky. Almost 70% of the species in the US are migratory and most of them really migrate at night and that’s what these radars are measuring.

And this is basically an animation there that we make from all these radar measurements that show you where migration was last night. And you see it’s a pretty hot– pretty intense migration here in the center of the country, especially in the south. In the northeast not so much yet, and I think that you see the huge difference.

There’s strong migration in Arkansas and in Texas and in New York not so much. And I think that is really what we try to achieve with the dashboard is sort of bring migration more– give you more of a local perspective of migration. So how is migration really in your county, in your state?

And when we say it’s a good migration night, that is also very different like in the South, there’s many, many birds migrating. In the Northeast, we still have enormous numbers of birds but maybe not so many as in Texas. So what’s high and what’s low really depends on where you are.

And I think that’s what we try to achieve with the dashboard’s bring you these migration observations of nocturnal migration to you in a much more localized way. And Audrey has done amazing work at making all these data that I generated to really make them into something beautiful and something that you can really explore and she’s going to tell you a little bit more about what the dashboard is and what you can do with it.

[Lisa Kopp] Really, quick– really quick before we jump into that we’re already getting questions and we had a few that were pre submitted asking about Canada because we’re looking at a map of the US. So I wonder if you could share a little bit about any plans for expansion or a similar tool in Canada?

[Adriaan Dokter] Yeah, we would love to have more information in Canada and I think I’m working with some Canadian colleagues who are also thinking like it would be great to have more Canadian data. And there’s big progress also in Canada in making the data that analyze these analysis available because that’s the main bottleneck.

The radars are there but it’s not so easy still to have access to the data and to do all the analysis that we need to do. But, yeah, I feel pretty confident it’s coming. Maybe not next year, but maybe the year after who knows. But we’re working on it and we very much hope to collaborate with our colleagues at Environment and Climate Canada to make that possible.

[Lisa Kopp] Wonderful. Thank you. And just for anyone who’s interested in some more of the nitty gritty details of the data collection and the history of BirdCast, we did a wonderful webinar with the BirdCast team back in September where we talked a little bit more about that.

So we’re going to– as we mentioned, we’re going to be focused more on the Migration Dashboard and how you can use that to really get some detailed information relative to where you may be, but for anyone interested in understanding more about the basics of BirdCast, we can put the link to that webinars video recording in the chat. And I’d encourage you to check that out some other time. So, Audrey, sorry to cut into your time. On to you.

[Audrey Carlsen] No worries. Thanks, Adriaan. Yeah, thank you. I’m going to go ahead and share my screen and we’ll do a little bit of a live demo of the dashboard. So here it is. Tada. You can find this at dashboard.birdcast.info. Like Lisa said earlier, we went live yesterday so you can go to that URL right now or later today and do a lot of the same exploring that I’m going to give you a bit of an example of right now.

So once you get to this page the first thing that you’re encouraged to do is actually to go ahead and think about what region you want to explore further. Because like Adriaan said, one of the most exciting parts about this new dashboard is that we’re not just giving you a look at the entire US we can actually do a deep dive into some pretty granular data.

So you can search for any county or state in the contiguous United States. And like Adriaan pointed out, last night was an especially good night in the southern region of the United States in particular, Arkansas. So I’m going to go ahead and use county in Arkansas as an example to show you what we have up for offer from this dashboard.

So Pulaski County is where Little Rock is based in Arkansas and this had a pretty good night last night. There’s a lot of data here so I’m just going to walk through the different parts of it to get you a little bit oriented. This is basically showing us a summary of what happened in terms of nocturnal bird migration last night. So Tuesday night, 19.

One of the most exciting things that we’re able to show you is this big number here at the top. So we’re able to estimate that there are approximately 2.2 million birds that crossed over Pulaski County last night. That’s huge. We haven’t been able to say something like that before. And we can now say that for any county in the US.

In addition to that, we also are able to provide some more specific information, including what things looked like at peak migration last night. So we defined peak migration as the point in the night that had the most number of birds in the air over that county. So for this county, it was actually at 11:55 PM last night.

There were 314,000 birds in flight over Pulaski County. And they were generally flying in a northward direction, which is what we would expect for a spring migration. And an average speed of about 39 miles per hour and 22,700 feet above the ground on average.

So we also have a lot of information to show you what happened not just at that sort of peak point in time but what happened throughout the night in 10 minute intervals and that’s what these charts are showing you. So we are able to break it down along a number of different metrics, including the number of birds in flight throughout the night starting at sunset and going until the end of the night, which we define as sunrise and that’s this chart that you can see here.

And for this county, this is actually showing a pretty nice standard pattern that we would expect, which is that about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset, birds start taking to the– taking to the air and within a few miles– a few hours after sunset, you’re going to see the most number of birds in flight and then that’s going to decrease again until sunrise.

We also have information that you can start to explore around what direction these birds are moving in as shown by these arrows in this chart across the night, as well as what speed they were traveling at. And again, most of these arrows are going to be pointing upward because it is spring migration. So these birds are generally flying north. And we also have information on what altitude they were flying at across the night.

So that sort of combined, can give you a sense of what was going on and also, what we might have been going on in terms of weather or other things that were impacting when and where these birds would be seen.

We also in this sort of center section provides some charts to give you a sense of how this might have fit into the larger season. So this chart is showing us from March through June, because we’re defining a spring migration season as March 1 to June 15, we’re showing you every day or every night or rather what the average number of birds in flight was.

And so the information that you can gain from here is you can see that last night, we actually had a really, really high number of birds compared to previous nights in Pulaski County. This is the highest night throughout the entire season so far. And something else I want to point out is that in addition to showing you this season’s data, which is this green line, for each chart we’re also showing this sort of gray area underneath it, which is the average of historic data for that time period.

So we can see that we’re expecting peak migration to be right around the beginning of May, but that where we’re already starting to get into that period and that that will probably peak in May and come back down by the beginning of June.

This final chart is also just showing us cumulatively across the season, how many birds have crossed this area. So starting at the beginning of March with zero birds and by sort of the middle beginning or middle of June we’re probably going to see the maximum number that have come through. So where we are at compared to previous years we’re like a little under where we have been for previous years but tracking pretty much with what we’d expect.

The final feature I just wanted to point out on the dashboard in this view is this expected nocturnal migrants section. Based on the radar data alone, we can’t actually accurately predict exactly which birds we’re picking up but it felt really important to us to be able to give you a sense of what you probably could expect to see.

And so using eBird data, which we have a very powerful sort of database that are right of observations of what people have seen in the past, based on those historic observations and the frequency of those observations, we’re able to give you a list of which nocturnal migrating species are most likely based on those previous observations to be arriving or departing in this area at this time of year.

Now, this is a summary of what we saw last night, but part of the exciting thing about this dashboard is that if you were to come to this during the night, you’d actually be able to see this data updating in real time. So I’m just going to give you a quick look at– imagine we were to go back just a couple of hours into the night, we would be seeing this in more of a live state. Where every half an hour or so, this website would actually be updating and showing you what was happening throughout the night as it was happening.

So I encourage you not only to check this in the morning but if you’re at all excited about this, to check it out while it’s actually happening between that sunset to sunrise period to see what’s happening in real time. Now, again, one of the most exciting parts of this dashboard is that we’re able to access this sort of detailed information for any county or state in the contiguous United States.

So in addition to being able to look at any specific county we could also see what’s happening in the entire state of Arkansas and we’re pretty much getting the same information, except the numbers are going to be a lot higher. So about 13.4 million birds crossed Arkansas last night.

And something that’s kind of interesting to be able to show you and I want to point this out is that based on this birds in flight chart that’s tracking what happened across the state all night, we know that there was a significant amount of rain that started falling right around 1:00 AM and that’s actually reflected in the chart. You can see that right around 1:00 AM the number of birds that were flying started to decrease.

So that’s starting to help us really connect what’s happening in real time in these places to the data that we’re seeing, which is very exciting. I just wanted to pause there in case, Andrew, Adriaan, there was anything else you wanted to point out about this country before diving into a couple of other examples. No? Good to go.

[Adriaan Dokter] Good to go.

[Audrey Carlsen] Awesome. OK. So in addition to being able to explore different regions for any given night, another really exciting part about this is how much data we actually have across time. So I think it’s really important to be able to show you all how you’re able to delve back in time to any given day that you want.

We’re offering up from March 1 to June 15 for the spring migration season, but we’re also making available all of the data that we have collected from spring and fall migrations from 2021 as well. So I just wanted to give a few different examples to highlight how you might be able to explore this data yourself.

So we’re going to go ahead and hop over to the West Coast to Multnomah County, which is where Portland, Oregon is based. And as you can see, I think this is probably my favorite chart on the page and I think the most useful one. In terms of being able to figure out how was migration tonight, was this a really high night.

You can see here from the seasonal chart so again, this is showing you how many birds were in flight on average for every night throughout the season. There was this peak just a few days ago on April 17. So let’s go ahead and use our date picker here to go back in time a few days and see what was going on in Multnomah County on April 17. And again, you can see this was a really high night in terms of the number of birds that crossed and also how many were in the air during that peak migration time.

And we can see from this chart that this was the highest night of the entire season so far. And this is actually very sort of standard in terms of what you would expect for the northwest where we have large periods of sort of rainy inclement weather that creates these like fallow periods here right when you’re actually not seeing a lot of birds migrating. Followed by like large spikes that will happen just across a day or two where lots of birds are migrating. And, Andrew, Adriaan, if you want to elaborate on that pattern feel free to do so.

[Andrew Farnsworth] This is just to remind people the notion of these pulses of migration and thinking about how bird migration is very closely related obviously to meteorological conditions, to weather, and you think about from a perspective of weather and as how it changes across the entire continent of the US, that you have these waves of frontal systems, of air masses, that are passing through disturbances and then it’s clear.

So some of these pulses that you see in these different county data that Audrey is talking about, that very much aligns with our perspective as she’s mentioned to thinking about the connection. Yeah, we can talk from an Arkansas perspective about there was rain last night, we can see the drop off.

When we look very broadly here across counties to states and then thinking about the continental maps, we can also see those kinds of patterns to the pulses that are connected to favorable or nearly favorable weather conditions when birds are migrating.

[Audrey Carlsen] I’m going to pause here, Lisa, in case there’s any sort of things from the Q&A or the chat that we want to get into now. Otherwise, I’m going to go into just a couple more examples to kind of tease out different parts of this that are particularly interesting. Yeah,

[Lisa Kopp] There’s some really great questions in the Q&A that we’re going to hold until after you’ve finished your demo, but there is one question that I think is relevant as we’re looking at these, which is, how are– what’s the historical data that you use to create these gray scale maps in the background if this is the first time that the dashboard exists? That’s a great question that someone asked.

[Adriaan Dokter] Oh, yeah. So the data goes back until 2013. So 2013 to 2021. So it’s about eight years, that historical baseline. And that’s because we had a big radar upgrades in 2013 so the radar and data has been very constant over that period. So I used that period to set that reference.

And for the data that’s available now where you can use your date picker, you can go back now for one year. So you can also explore all the data in 2021. We’ll likely update that and going back more and more years in the future. But for this release, we didn’t have time to process everything so that will come in the future.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you for that. And actually one more question that is really helpful for the date picker, when you say you’re showing us the date for April 17, is that the night of the 16th to the 17th or the 17 to the 18?

[Audrey Carlsen] That’s a great, great question. So this would be the night of the 17, to the 18, We define a night as when that night starts. So you can actually see, for example, even though this is showing the night of Sunday, April 17, that peak migration period happened at 4:00 AM on Monday, April 18. So but that’s still considered the night of Sunday, April 18. That’s a great question.

[Lisa Kopp] Wonderful. Thank you.

[Audrey Carlsen] OK. I’m going to go ahead and show another example. We’re going to go all the way across the country again to Florida to the very southern tip where Key West is located in Monroe County, Florida. And again, we can use that same seasonal chart to see that there was a most recent spike in migration on April 14, the night of April 14 to April 15. So again, going back in time using our date picker we can go ahead and see what was going on here.

And one of the first thing that stands out to me about this is actually the birds in flight chart showing you what’s been happening across the night. I pointed out when we were first looking at Pulaski County in Arkansas this sort of classic almost like curve where throughout the night and increases peaks and then decreases.

But here in Florida, we’re seeing kind of a different pattern where we’ve got this two peaks. One, kind of early on in the night, a dip back down and then it increasing again later on in the night. So Andrew, can you speak to what’s going on here?

[Andrew Farnsworth] Yeah, this is a really interesting pattern that we see often in Florida. So when you think of where Monroe County is, Key West is obviously maybe the most well known city there and where the radar is. If you think about where birds are spending the day and from where they are taking off to make their nocturnal movements, the keys are very limited and land area obviously. So when we see that initial pulse of birds taking off, we see birds that have spent their days primarily in habitat on the Florida Keys. So we see that emergence 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

We also, of course, have a major land area that’s just to the south of there only about 90 miles away in Cuba where obviously an enormous number of birds are also stopping over and employing habitat there. So we see that as part of that initial pulse as well. So in that first hour or two after sunset, there is this mass movement of birds out of the Keys and also out of Cuba.

And then we have a period of time where you think about what is farther south up there for the spring movements, there’s not a lot of land mass until you get a little bit farther south in the Caribbean and then of course even farther south to South America. So that next wave of migrants that appears doesn’t come for quite a while. Some of those that you see in the 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM window are probably from other Caribbean islands farther south.

Some of those migrants may well be faster flying migrants from Northern South America, including shorebirds and water birds. You’ll notice that the speeds do increase when you look at the flight direction and speed toward that 30 mile an hour range where you get later in the evening and that 3:00 to 6:00 AM window that’s very different from what’s happening earlier in the evening.

So these may well be birds, water birds, larger bodied birds, that have come from South America. But that’s the reason we have this difference in pulse thinking about where birds have spent their time during the day, where they are when they come up into the atmosphere, and where radar detects them and then obviously, they move on and then you see the next pulse.

[Audrey Carlsen] Great. Thank you for that explanation. I’m going to go ahead and show one more example here and then we can get more into questions because I’m sure this has generated plenty of questions that I’m eager to get to.

So I’m going to go ahead and hop over to Johnson County, Iowa, which is where Iowa City is located. And we can do that same thing we’ve been doing this whole time, we can scan our seasonal chart and see that there was this peak here on April 9. So again, I’m going to use the date picker to go a little bit further in time.

And here we are April 9 for Johnson County. We’re seeing that more classic curve that I was describing that happens when you’re kind of like off more into the center of the country rather than along the Gulf Coast. But something that is more notable here is how fast these birds are traveling.

Throughout the night, they almost get up to 50 miles per hour, which you think about that, that’s almost as fast as you’re going sometimes on the freeway. And in addition in terms of altitude, the average altitude was actually a lot higher than the historic average for this time of year in this county . So Adriaan or Andrew, I’m curious if you can also help explain what’s going on here.

[Adriaan Dokter] Yeah, this is a very interesting case and I think what’s happening here is that birds are super good at predicting weather and using good weather. And just the fact that you see that birds are flying almost 50 miles per hour, their own cell speed isn’t that quick. So it’s about– it’s like– I suspect it’s mostly songbirds that we are seeing at this time and that they all fly about 20, 30 miles per hour if there wasn’t any winds.

But because they’re so clever in using sort of wind resistance, you see they can almost double their own speeds by using these good tailwinds. And that’s why we see them going so fast. So the speed that we measure here is really the speed relative to the ground. And this is a great example.

And it can be even crazier. You have to keep an eye on it what happens this year but it’s not unheard of that birds will even fly almost 100 miles per hour in certain rare cases. And I think wind is also probably very critical in explaining these high altitudes. Birds are very good at finding the sort of optimal air layer where it’s sort of they get the best free rides on the winds.

And I think in this night especially later in the night, higher altitudes were probably had better winds and that’s why the birds are flying relatively high on this night. So, yeah, lots to see and lots to– I think even for myself, I like looking at this too and I get new ideas and new questions while I’m looking at these data. So that shows the power of it I think for me.

[Lisa Kopp] Adriaan, we got a lot of questions about what exactly is altitude based on. Is it based on sea level, is it based on the land, in mountainous regions that’s obviously going to be quite different. We talk a little bit about what sea level or what altitude is based off of.

[Adriaan Dokter] Yeah, so we decided to have the altitude to define it again what sort of relevant to you to the place where you are, which is typically ground level. So the altitudes are relative to ground level and I saw already someone in the chat and also someone who posts an early question like, how does this work in mountainous areas? And that’s a really good question and I have maybe not a totally satisfactory answer to that and it’s still the case that mountainous areas are difficult.

And it’s just quite difficult to define what is ground level in the mountainous area. Do you take it at the top of the mountain or in the valley? And what we decided to settle on for now is sort of take the altitude of the radar station, we define that as the ground level.

And you have to keep in mind also that in mountainous areas, the radar cannot really look below the position where it is. So, yeah, in mountainous areas, you have to be careful that may be the altitudes are relative to the ground level of the radar. And also, we might miss some birds that are on there flying the radar. But I think still in these mountainous areas, the patterns make sense. The pattern throughout the night and throughout the season, they’re very much represents the bird migration. It’s just the absolute numbers are maybe a little bit lower.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. That’s really helpful.

[Audrey Carlsen] So those are the examples I had prepared. Andrew, is there anything else you want to speak to before we turn it over to Q&A?

[Andrew Farnsworth] Yeah, I just– I’m as excited as Audrey and Adriaan are about this new tool. And I think perhaps one of the things I’m most excited about is Adriaan hinted, we don’t often get the chance to look at the radar data in these ways.

And the fact that now you can explore the data at the same time we’re exploring them and hopefully seeing patterns that may be of interest and/or expectation to you and you can talk with us about that, that’s going to be really exciting for us. It really opens up a kind of a new way to think about understanding migration.

Whether you know a lot about it or not, this is a way to get involved and it’s something you can do at the very most introductory levels and even at the very most advanced levels. And I think it’s going to we hope lead to some real excitement from the birding community and the meteorological community and just the general public.

But also, hopefully, have some real implications for some of the conservation work we do. Thinking about lights out efforts where we really want to inform building owners and municipalities and energy infrastructure when and where is a good time to turn off lights, which of course, is all the time but if there are particular areas and times, we can now inform that even better than we could before with some of our publications with this.

And also, I think the notion that we can now connect these kinds of patterns and think about the history and think about changes that have occurred over time, even if it’s only eight years that we can see here, there’s some real power there and understanding, well, where are we this year relative to previous years? And how of that relate to other environmental factors whether they are local or regional, whether it’s about weather or climate, thinking about different timescales?

The way to kind of get into thinking about migration from that perspective, this tool really embodies that. So we’re really excited to have you explore it and we’re thankful for the opportunity to talk about it today. Hopefully, answer a whole bunch of questions. I do see that there are a lot of them so I don’t want to talk too much more.

[Lisa Kopp] Andrew, you’re actually touching on two questions that I’m seeing come up quite a bit. One, is how can this be used to help birds? As you mentioned, lights out, someone talked about wind turbines. And then the other thing is, how can a layperson use this and what I’m going to extrapolate from that is someone who might just be sort of a your average birder interested in understanding what they might be able to see.

So you sort of touched on both of those pieces, Andrew. I wonder if you could expand a bit on them and we can answer some of the questions that are popping up in here.

[Andrew Farnsworth] Sure. Let me start with the latter first and then go back to the former. So as a birder, thinking about if you are, one, interested in nocturnal migration and being outside and trying to experience nocturnal migration, whether listening to it in terms of migrants that are passing and vocalizing. Or perhaps you’re in some place like I am in Manhattan or in other illuminated place where you actually can see nocturnal migration occasionally, this is a great way to think about what’s above you or above your county at a particular time.

Now, of course, most of the birding that we all do is not necessarily going to be at night like it is for a lot of the BirdCast team, but it’s going to be during the day. So watching the graphics here and thinking about them early in the night, maybe first thing in the morning before you go out, the notion of what kind of migration traffic has happened over you, what altitude it’s happened that, how fast birds are moving and also, what the expected migrants are, that can really give you a good sense of what’s on the move and what your expectation could be for that morning’s birding.

Now, there’s not necessarily going to be a very close connection all the time between some enormous number of birds migrating at night as exemplified in the dashboard in terms of the total count, the estimated count of birds, but there often are going to be cases where when you go birding after a frontal passage or when weather changes and when there’s been a night of good migration, you’re going to see changes in the bird community from the day before.

So thinking about this as a way to inform when you go birding, where you go birding, in particular in conjunction with some of the other tools we have like the forecast maps, I think it’s a really nice way to think about how to understand or how to inform your efforts the next day. And also, trying to connect with it live as it happens. I do encourage people to attempt to do that if you can to both listen and look at the moon if you can see it or if you happen to be in a very bright area for some reason, actually try to see birds migrating at night.

They are very high as you can see from the altitude but you have information about that. So there might be nights where you can figure that out. And now, I’ve talked a lot about that but let me just get back to the former point about the applications.

I talked about lights out and thinking about lights out in particular since we have a pretty major effort happening in Texas now regarding lights out. The notion of being able to inform to people that don’t necessarily know about it, the magnitude of migration that’s occurring over a particular area, yes, at the continental scale that there are hundreds of millions of birds moving on a really good night in peak periods of migration.

But then being able to zero down– to zero in on the county level and think about millions of birds passing over a county, that starts to be really informative from the perspective of understanding, well, what’s going on locally in places where I might have control over, say, the ability to advocate for legislation or to turn off my own lights or to really try to make a change relative to the situation we have in many places currently, which is a lot of light at night which attracts birds and disorient them and then either brings them into direct hazards of colliding with structures at night.

Or often is the case, brings them into these area where hazards are with which they collide the next day. Reflective glass, windows both in buildings and cities and urban areas and in residential areas.

So the notion of informing the action to reduce light for example, this lights out approach, we think that this kind of a tool can really be speak to the proximate issue at hand and use to inform that kind of an approach. Of course, what we want is a much broader approach eventually. Reducing light pollution is good for everybody, good for humans, good for energy savings et cetera. And we want that broadly but starting the discussion with what’s happening now locally and nationally, we think that’s really powerful.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. That’s really helpful and we can be posting information in the chat about how to learn more about the lights out campaign, which also has some great resources and information about what you can do at your local– in your local community.

We’re getting some really great questions about weather because all of you talked about the connection between migration weather. So one question is, do you have a favorite– maybe I’ll pose this to Adriaan, do you have a favorite resource for looking at weather that then you sort of overlay with your own knowledge about bird migration that might help you understand where or when there might be particular fallout? They’re looking for an insider tip clearly.

[Adriaan Dokter] Insider tip, yeah. Well, to be honest, I think one of the best tools are the forecasts that we make on BirdCast. We talked a lot today about the live migration in the dashboards where you can sort of see what happens, when it happens, but we also make forecasts based on weather models that are also posted basically when you open the BirdCast site. They’re up there right in front.

And to be honest, these forecasts are a little better than I could even figure out with my sort of expert knowledge. So that’s a good way to do it. But otherwise, I would think you have– what I said earlier, birds like some good supportive tailwind.

So if the wind has been going to the north and it sort of shifts all the time to the south, and you get sort of a nice warm weather going into your county, then I’m very, very sure that there will be a lot of migrants. And then especially when that happens and they’re sort of unexpected thunderstorms or sort of inclement weather that sort of develops in the middle of the night while that migration is happening and birds crash into that, that’s when you really get sometimes a pile up of migrants because then the birds sort of have to stop.

They cannot fly through this sort of intense storms. And then you get these good concentrations. So maps where– I look sometimes at Windy app also, which has– Windy has a nice animations of the wind patterns and the temperatures. That’s one I like to look at sometimes in addition to BirdCast. Where you can– that it helps you to get a little bit more sense of the overall wind patterns. Yeah, definitely something we also think about how can we make our forecast even more informative by adding different layers. Now that we have Audrey, we can think of so many cool visualizations for the future. That’s what I hope.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. Thank you. Audrey, I have a question for you from someone who’s asking, I think this is probably in your camp, it’s sort of a dashboard design question, which is that, Bill is asking, the chart says regular flight is at 10,000 feet but 2,500 seems to be the average. So is there a reason that the scale that we’re showing on the dashboard is so much higher than what the average tends to be?

[Audrey Carlsen] That actually might be a better for Adriaan to answer.

[Lisa Kopp] Oh, OK.

[Adriaan Dokter] Yeah, that is a good one. Also, we are struggling with that. There is already so much information here and the altitude of birds like what we show is the mean altitude. So sort of the average, but it doesn’t mean that birds fly sometimes way higher. And typically, the average or the peak altitude– the peak altitude of the birds is much higher typically than the mean– than the average flight altitude. Because birds, they just fly at many, many different altitudes at the same time.

So just to not overwhelm you too much, we decided to show you only the average, but if you guys get very excited to know more about altitudes, we can only me think about showing you even more information because there’s– they’re sort of endless in that way. That’s the reason. We only show the mean and sort of the highest birds fly quite a bit higher. And 10,000 is really not unheard of.

[Andrew Farnsworth] I just want to– I just want to jump in quickly about altitude also that birds do change altitude quite a lot during a night’s movement. And we’ve seen this in published studies that track individual birds. So I had seen that a question had popped up at some point about, how do birds find the optimal or something close to optimal conditions where they fly?

They explore and they explore when they’re migrating so they have an exceptional ability to sense their environment around them in various different ways and can find places where maybe it’s not going to be the absolute best tailwind that they can get but it’s going to be really, really good. So they may not be in the absolute optimal layer, but they’re going to try to find that and they’re going to move around until they find something that’s favorable.

The other thing that birds do that we see in places in particular along the Gulf Coast is that before a night’s migration, some birds may actually go up and sample the atmosphere. You may see these behaviors where birds will leave stopover habitat and face into the wind and very quickly ascend to rather quite high altitudes and sample the winds and sample what’s happening.

So we think both of those things are probably happening on a regular basis but that’s one of the potential ways birds can kind of survey what’s happening at an altitude perspective and shift around.

[Adriaan Dokter] And it’s really a mystery how they do that actually, for me. Because it’s pitch dark, they are just flying there in pitch darkness and somehow they managed to find these winds. Sometimes at 2 kilometers above the ground. Really, it’s truly fascinating and we are not entirely sure how they do it.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, I should mention that back in September, no, actually, I’m sorry. In September, we all talked. In March, I talked with Kevin McGowan one of the ornithologists at the Lab, all about spring migration. And we can link to the video recording for that talk in the chat because we did talk about some of these incredible behaviors that birds have that we just don’t know the answers for.

And Kevin actually talks about that’s one of the most amazing things about being at the Lab of Ornithology, is that there are researchers looking into that and still trying to understand these things. And so it’s just a really incredible place to be, but that there are some things are just giant mysteries and we don’t know the answer to them yet.

So I wanted to ask a couple of questions about– let’s see, people are asking about– sorry, I had one tagged but the questions just keep coming, it’s really exciting to see how many there are right now. Trying to record birds during migration at night because obviously, seeing them as difficult. Are there any tips or tricks to being able to pick up sounds of birds migrating at night?

[Andrew Farnsworth] It’s still an active area of research. That’s a great question. Thank you for asking it. So these sounds that birds make at night are often they can be very different from sounds you hear typically during the day. They often are very short in duration, very different from territorial kinds of song and multi note, multisyllabic vocalizations you might hear from birds. They tend to be very short like. Some of them are fewer less than hundreds or even 50 milliseconds. So very brief.

So recording them and using audio gear to do that, so there are some really great opportunities to think about doing that. There are tools that Macaulay Library suggests in terms of recording with different microphones, different kinds of gear like that but you don’t necessarily need anything very expensive to do it.

You can also do it with your smartphone and we are working on an application that is specific to nocturnal migration and these kinds of vocalizations you might hear to adapt the Merlin Sound ID efforts that hopefully some of you may have explored in the Merlin app that identifies bird sounds for you, something similar for flight calls.

So hopefully, that will be coming at some point soon. The current app will try to do that and there are some data that were– the model was trained on some flight call information so that may well work but definitely, follow up with us on the acoustic monitoring. Because it does require some effort in terms of the recording side of things, but there are some resources out there that can help you in terms of, as I said, McCauley and their recording gear but also even just using the very simplest kinds of equipment possible.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. Two questions sort of related to that. One, we’re getting a lot of questions that are sort of based a little bit on the screen that Audrey is sharing right now, which shows that expected nocturnal migrants table. But lots of people want to know, is there going to be a way to figure out which birds specifically are migrating in my county, in my region, at any given time. Is there a good answer for that?

[Andrew Farnsworth] Adriaan, you want to jump in and I can jump in after?

[Adriaan Dokter] Yeah, I can jump in a little bit. So the radar has its limitations and one of the limitations is that it doesn’t really see species. So I think from the radar measurements, we can do, maybe do a little bit in terms of groups with new dual polarization techniques but I don’t expect that we will ever be able to distinguish species.

So the species information and that’s also what Audrey pointed out what we do with the expected nocturnal migrants, is really combining that with other types of information. And especially the eBird data is growing tremendously and I expect many of you may have already contributed to the eBird project.

That’s really turning into an amazing database to measure movements of individual species just by us sort of as a community providing all this information on where birds are being observed on the ground. And I think that’s a really strong future research line of us, I think to combine all these what we call data integration, to combine all these different types of information to sort of make a reconstruction of where individual species are moving. So it will probably be hard for eBird data to really have this nightly and hourly resolution. We cant do that because we cannot detect birds as observers at night. So that’s a real strength of the radar, these are short timescales and what really is happening real time. But then the species on the ground, that’s really something that eBird data combined. So you can already feel that these two sources of information are complementary and we’ll– we have to think hard about how to really combine them in the smartest way to give you more and more species information.

And then another component I think is what Andrew or I think Andrew can speak more to that and that is detecting many migrants at night with acoustics.

[Andrew Farnsworth] Yeah, that’s– and Adriaan’s got exactly right. And I think we all are really aware that there is no perfect way to study nocturnal migration. So it’s got to be complementary methods. So the nocturnal piece with radar and the diurnal piece where birds are on the ground during the day with the eBird data, that’s a huge, huge wonderfully rich area to investigate.

The acoustics that we were just talking about in terms of actually identifying what birds are aloft and making sound as they’re migrating at night, that’s going to be another very rich source of information. That actually is a much closer link to what’s up there and obviously what’s making sound and what the radar may be detecting.

There are some other techniques to thinking about and studying what’s happening at night, including thermal and even visual imagery, from videography. That’s something that we and some of our colleagues are investigating, but it definitely requires some really significant investment in the technology and figuring out what the limitations are, and where this kind of integration can happen to make the picture as complete as possible.

So we’re going in the right direction. I think the dashboard is a huge kind of leap forward in terms of presenting this information so that you all can think about, Oh, here are the species that are on the move in my area and they are likely contributing to what the radar is detecting and what we’re presenting in the left portion and the central portion of this graphic.

So the more information we can collect on that, the better in terms of that complementary relationship. And then digging in deeper and figuring out what other additional relationships are there that we don’t know about? What other integrating data can we bring in that can also inform this as it’s happening at night or during the day as well?

So it’s a really active area and exciting area of research where we do not have all the answers or even all the techniques. It’s a lot of collaboration and there’s a lot of excitement and just pure research to try to understand how to do this best.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s so– I mean, it’s one of the most incredible things about working at the Lab, is that there is all of this intersectionality between different datasets but as you were saying, actually, just going out and sort of checking the work of this list of expected nocturnal migrants that next morning is the best way to sort of base what you were looking at in the dashboard.

And we should say that I assume that this list is linked to the live eBird database and if major changes happen in sightings, those would be reflected in this list. I assume, at least. Audrey could probably answer that. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what goes into getting all of that data integrated onto different websites. So– Oh, go ahead, Audrey.

[Audrey Carlsen] I was just going to double down on that and say it is a really complicated sort of algorithm that we’re using in terms of pulling the eBird data. Adriaan, are we incorporating data from as recently as a few days ago or how far back does that go?

[Adriaan Dokter] No, not yet. They’re mostly like the historical eBird data that we’re using now and especially sort of when you’re sort of in the rising and the decreasing slopes of the observations that you see also in this little bar charts, that’s really what is expected migrant signal picks up and presents to you then the species that are really changing their acquaintance rapidly that those are the ones that are most likely migrating.

But this was just the first pass and I think this is almost a research topic in itself to predict which are the expected nocturnal migrants. And so it won’t be perfect but I think this is our first attempt to get to something and it works already pretty well for a lot of regions in the US.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s really incredible. So we only have about five minutes left and I want to take some time to answer a lot of questions that are asking about, what’s next? You guys just unveiled this incredible tool and of course everyone is eager to know what the next cool tool is.

And one thing that we’re seeing come up a lot in the Q&A is whether there is or will be an app version of this. Something that people can have on their smartphone hopefully next to their eBird and Merlin apps.

[Andrew Farnsworth] Wow. That’s a good question. We hope that at some point, there are so many ways to relate this rich information to what’s happening with your experience with eBird, with Merlin. Our hope is that at some point in the relatively near future, that we’ll be able to incorporate all of these things into an app.

So, yeah, you may have your individual ways to explore and it may be that it’s sort of a mobile enabled web page that BirdCast will provide different from a particular app experience that eBird might but the hope is that we start to integrate this information into some more sort of coherent like whoa, OK, how do we connect the ability to enter your observations with what’s happening as it’s happening with alerting you when something’s about to happen. That’s the direction we’re really interested in heading and I hope that at some point in the near future, we’re going to get there.

I can say that Audrey and the technical team that were involved in developing what you see before you here, worked tirelessly on. This was an enormous amount of work. Adriaan prepped the data and worked with the data and the presentation of the material, the thought behind it, it really does require a team of people and an active and talented team to kind of capture this level of information in a way that’s compelling, that’s simple to understand, and also that is meaningful and speaks to what the data actually say.

So I think some of the next kinds of tools that we hope to see– you heard us talk about the integration today. The potential of thinking about layers and other sources of information and digging deeper here. This is obviously very much a numerically-driven visual. We have thought quite a lot about the spatial perspective. You’ve seen the national maps and thinking about those at a finer scale may be of real interest.

And we also have– we’ve gotten a lot of questions in the past about, well, OK, you’re telling us about migration traffic and what’s happening when birds are in the air, what about when they take off, what about when they land, what about the stopover information, about the relationship between what the birders do see and what the radar says? So we’re interested in thinking about that too. That’s hopefully going to come at some point in the near future.

[Lisa Kopp] I always love hearing from the BirdCast team. I think what you’re doing truly is magic. I mean I know it takes an incredible amount of work and talent and resources but to the outside user to be able to access this kind of information from my computer or my phone is just absolutely incredible.

And thank you for the hard work you put into this and for sharing it with us today. I hope that all of our participants will pull this up tomorrow morning or tonight and think about what’s happening outside their homes because it really is, it sort of just it’s eye and potentially even ear opening to be able to understand what’s happening in the world when we all might be asleep.

So I just wanted to do a couple of quick announcements. So if you all registered over Zoom, you will get an email from us tomorrow that will include the recording of this video, as well as links to some of the important sites or resources that we talked about today.

If you’re watching on Facebook, check the comments for some of those links and resources, as well. And this webinar is part of a series. So we spotlight all sorts of programs and projects from around the Lab, including one next week, we’ll be actually doing a live painting webinar of a spring time favorite Cedar Waxwing.

So we’re so grateful to all of those of you who are members and who support the work that we do because this work is funded primarily from people like you. So if you enjoyed this webinar, I hope you’ll consider becoming a member. You can support the work that the BirdCast team is doing among others.

And thank you again so much to Audrey, Adriaan, and Andrew, for joining us today and sharing your incredible work.

[Andrew Farnsworth] Thank you, Lisa. Thank all of you.

[Audrey Carlsen] Thank you.

[Adriaan Dokter] Thanks. Enjoy spring migration.

[Lisa Kopp] Yes. Have a great day everyone. Bye.

End of transcript

Join the BirdCast team for a live demonstration of a new tool for tracking nocturnal bird migration anywhere in the continental United States. The Migration Dashboard provides near real-time information on the fascinating flights of migratory birds across the United States each spring and fall based on data collected by a network of weather surveillance radars. Using historical and seasonal context, the dashboard helps birdwatchers and conservationists understand the bigger picture of migration and anticipate when migration intensity will be high. The dashboard will be an invaluable tool for learning about migration, planning your next birding trip, and supporting conservation actions that aim to provide a safe airspace for the billions of birds crossing the US each year.

Explore More:
  • Check out BirdCast for live bird migration maps, 3-night advance migration forecasts, local migration alerts, and more.
  • Look up your own county and state to see local details on the new Migration Dashboard.
  • Take part in Lights Out to protect migrating birds by turning outdoor lights off during high-migration nights.