My fascination with birds started when I was an undergraduate student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It was there that I had the opportunity to hold my first bird—a Black-capped Chickadee—as part of an ornithology course.
When I held it, I was in awe of its beauty—the details of its plumage, its small and delicate body—but at the same time I was struck by its tenacity at trying to escape. That’s when my career in birds took flight.
Not long afterwards I was traveling through Mexico and encountered many bird species from home—not the Black-capped Chickadee, but rather many other songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl I had become familiar with. This piqued my curiosity. How could birds, especially small ones, travel so far, and why? Since then I’ve devoted my career to studying bird migration.
As a migration scientist, I’m often asked to share interesting facts or stories about migratory birds, but it’s quite difficult to settle on just one. Migratory birds defy our perception of reality in so many ways, there’s no shortage of stories. For example, should I tell them about Blackpoll Warblers, which weigh only as much as two quarters and travel three days nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean? Or should I explain to them how Broad-winged Hawks migrate in large flocks, called “kettles,” by the thousands, soaring on thermals from their breeding grounds to winter habitat thousands of miles away? More than 1.5 million of these amazing birds pass through a narrow migration bottleneck in coastal Veracruz each fall!
Of course, once I convince people how incredible migratory birds are—and it’s usually clear by the look of amazement on their faces—I tell them about the accumulating threats to birds, of which there are no shortages. Habitat loss and alteration, tall human-made structures, introduced species, and, of course, climate change are driving population declines in more than half of North America’s bird species.
Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative will bring together the latest research on species distributions and movements across the full annual cycle for 520 species of migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere. The comprehensive scope – geographic, methodological and taxonomic – and scientific rigor of the Initiative will guide the development of strategic, science-based conservation and policy investments for migratory birds.
We will use this information to craft compelling stories and visualizations that bring the phenomenon of migration to life and promote a deeper understanding of its role in maintaining healthy bird populations, capitalizing on Audubon’s one-of-a-kind story-telling. Through an online exploration tool made publicly accessible to people across the hemisphere, we will bring awareness to the threats birds encounter and the places where they are most vulnerable. We will assess place-based conservation needs and fill critical information gaps. And most importantly, we will leverage our grassroots conservation and policy power by linking people to actions that result in durable protection for birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.
Every last bit of information on these 520 species will help Audubon and its partners develop strong science-based solutions for protecting birds, so please keep participating in your Christmas Bird Counts and submitting eBird checklists—these are key sources of occurrence data for this Initiative.
Partnerships across the Western Hemisphere will be central to our success, because protecting migratory birds is too big of a problem for any of us to tackle alone. Thankfully, scientific institutions as well as thousands of researchers across the Americas are collecting and analyzing data on migratory birds that form the foundation of effective conservation and policy. Conservation organizations are using this knowledge to develop and implement effective on-the-ground solutions. Audubon’s role is to harness the best of what is out there from these accomplished institutions and create an engine that drives conservation actions at home and internationally.
Of course, we are also working with teams across the Audubon network. We look forward to working with state offices, centers and chapters to achieve conservation victories that we all can build upon. Most importantly, we will engage people in the joy and stories of migration to inspire them to take their own actions to protect the places that matter most across the Americas.
The Migratory Bird Initiative is just taking flight, so please stay tuned for more. In the meantime, read some of our recent stories about the incredible science and scientists studying migratory birds. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can contribute data or expertise please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.