Esri Puts Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative on the Map

By providing and advancing the technology behind increasingly accurate maps, the GIS giant plays an integral role in effective nature conservation.

It’s hard to imagine today’s world without maps readily available at our fingertips. Geospatial technology, commonly referred to as GIS (or geographic information systems), is embedded in our phones, cars and web searches, deeply shaping our digital experience. GIS is used worldwide across disciplines to analyze all types of spatial data, including questions concerning bird migration and conservation. 

Esri is the global leader in GIS software and a key technology partner in the Migratory Bird Initiative and Bird Migration Explorer. So why is mapping technology a key to this work? First, because conservation is inherently spatial—decisions about how to manage lands and natural resources are related to locations. GIS allows us to look for patterns and gain new insights at local, regional and global scales. Second, information about birds is tracked in geospatial databases. These data show us where and when birds are found at locations across the hemisphere, which in turn allow us to visualize and analyze bird migration. Insights such as these inform and strengthen conservation efforts. 

While these incredibly powerful mapping capabilities may seem new to some, GIS came into the world more than a half-century ago, incidentally around the same time that some of the first tracking devices were put on birds such as Mallards and Wood Thrushes. Previously known as Environmental Systems Research Institute, Esri was started in 1969 by Jack and Laura Dangermond. Esri has its roots in applying spatial data for land and natural resource management, and today the company still centers themselves around that core value by providing grants to more than 5600 non-profit organizations, including the National Audubon Society. Referring to the Migratory Bird Initiative, and bringing his unmatched perspective on the global landscape of conservation GIS, Jack Dangermond said, “This partnership among leading science and conservation organizations is extraordinary and groundbreaking. The Bird Migration Explorer is a landmark for Audubon and the conservation community.” 

Interactive maps allow us to personalize bird migration for our audiences by letting them explore places and find their own stories in the data. Allen Carroll is the Program Manager for Storytelling at Esri, and founded the ArcGIS StoryMaps team at Esri after a long tenure as Chief Cartographer with National Geographic. Under Carroll’s leadership, his team essentially created a new type of media by combining maps, storytelling, still images and video into a customizable application called StoryMaps—to date, more than two million StoryMaps have been published. Allen is also a birder and a proponent of the Migratory Bird Initiative. As a bird advocate with a broad perspective on using data to tell stories and connect to users, Carroll said “The Bird Migration Explorer provides a vivid, data-rich look at the amazing annual odysseys of migratory birds in the Americas. Its maps make clear the challenges birds face throughout the year and our responsibility to help reduce the threats they face from human activities.”  

Audubon and Esri have been close partners for over a decade. “Without Esri’s partnership, the Bird Migration Explorer would not be possible. Their dedication to conservation efforts and support in developing cutting-edge geospatial tools has been invaluable,” said Gadalia O’Bryan, Audubon’s vice president for data and analytics. Conservation and GIS go hand-in-hand. “We’re proud to support the National Audubon Society in their efforts to chart the movement of birds across the Western Hemisphere and to reveal patterns and relationships that will lead to more effective conservation efforts,” said Carroll. Both Audubon and Esri are excited for future shared endeavors in applying geospatial technology to addressing some of the biggest conservation challenges birds face.