Humans have long been captivated by migratory birds, awed by the animals’ biannual treks between their breeding and wintering grounds. A new digital platform, the Bird Migration Explorer, brings this natural phenomenon to your screen, enabling you to pore over the movements of individual species, discover the birds at a specific location, and learn about challenges these far-flying creatures face.
Created by Audubon and nine founding partners, using science contributed by hundreds of researchers and institutions, the platform paints the most complete picture ever of the journeys of 458 avian species that breed in the United States and Canada.
Users are met with a colorful map composed of routes of more than 9,300 birds captured by tracking devices and shared by scientists across the Western Hemisphere. The effect is astounding, says Melanie Smith, program director for the project: “You can see how birds trace the outlines of continents, rivers, lakes, mountain ridges.”
Smith and her colleagues envision a broad audience utilizing the Bird Migration Explorer, from conservationists looking to identify and protect the places migratory birds need to members of the public curious about their seasonal neighborhood visitors. Available in English and Spanish, the platform makes it possible to delve into the fascinating world of migratory birds. Here’s some of what awaits you.
Explore by Species
On the platform homepage, simply click the “Bird Species” button, type a common name into the search field, and you’ll launch a deep dive into where the species travels throughout the year and the challenges it encounters.
Choose a bird: Enter “American White Pelican,” for instance, and the platform will generate an interactive version of the map above that tracks the bird throughout its annual cycle. Pelicans outfitted with GPS tags (the yellow circles) reveal a geographic divide when it comes to migration: Breeding populations east of the Rocky Mountains move primarily south and east toward the Gulf of Mexico, while those to the west head primarily south to California and western Mexico.
Learn about its natural history: The platform also includes a brief description of each species. Users learn the American White Pelican is a spectacular flier and, with a nine-foot wingspan, is one of the largest birds in North America. It occurs far inland, feeds in shallow lakes, and, unlike Brown Pelicans, doesn’t dive from the air for fish. Bound to water, the piscivore is sensitive to marine and freshwater changes.
Discover the challenges it faces: On the left side of the page scroll down to “Available Maps” and select “Conservation Challenges.” That will generate a list of human activities and environmental changes the bird is exposed to throughout the year. The American White Pelican faces 10 conservation challenges, including degraded water quality and surface water management, which includes dams, river fragmentation, or disrupted water flow.
Explore by Location
The migrants that pass through your town rely on an array of habitats across the hemisphere. The Bird Migration Explorer allows you to see those links.
Select a Starting Point: Click the “Locations” tab on the platform home page and enter any location in the Western Hemisphere. We chose New Orleans, and the resulting map shows where American White Pelicans and other migratory birds that rest, breed, or winter in the Big Easy go throughout the year.
Spot ties: The darker the hexagon, the more species have been tracked between New Orleans and that area. Connections are derived from tracking, banding, and genetic data from millions of reencountered birds.
Dig deeper: Click any hexagon to see how many tracked birds link the two sites and what species they represent. A list of each connected species will appear, as well as conservation areas in the second location.
Discover hotspots: Certain places stand out for having a high diversity and abundance of birds. To peruse hotspots across the Western Hemisphere and learn which birds occur there, click the “Locations” tab, scroll down, and choose a featured area.
Migratory birds’ survival demands they fly long distances twice a year and find suitable habitat in between. It’s a risky endeavor, one that human activities and environmental changes can make more challenging. On the platform, click the red “Take Action” button in the upper righthand corner to receive updates on how to help migratory birds, connect with Audubon locally, and become an Audubon member.