NEW YORK – Today, as millions of birds are flocking to their wintering grounds, the National Audubon Society and nine partner organizations announced the Bird Migration Explorer (www.birdmigrationexplorer.org), a state-of-the-art digital platform that reveals migration data consolidated for 458 bird species that breed in the United States and Canada. The free, interactive platform, available in English and Spanish, allows users to see the most complete data collected on migratory species in their neighborhoods and where those birds go throughout the year. (This platform is currently best viewed on a desktop browser.)
The Bird Migration Explorer reveals insights about the journeys of individual species, the connectedness, through migratory birds, of any given location in the hemisphere, and also details how migratory birds encounter 19 different conservation challenges. For example, at least 299 species connect New York City to at least 30 other countries and territories in the hemisphere, including places as far away as Argentina and Uruguay. And, the famous “River of Raptors” migration corridor in Veracruz, Mexico, is a hub connecting the extreme northern and southern ends of the globe.
The Bird Migration Explorer can also show when each of these species passes through New York, Veracruz, or any other location, and the extent to which each of those species overlaps with any number of conservation challenges such as light pollution or power lines along their journeys. More generally, a user can see how countries in the Americas are all connected to each other by migratory birds, underscoring the importance of international cooperation and collaboration in the research and conservation of these species.
“People have always been curious and amazed by migratory birds and their incredible journeys, but only recently are scientists piecing together the full picture of how these birds travel from one end of the globe to the other,” said Dr. Jill Deppe, senior director of Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative, the founding organization of the Bird Migration Explorer.
“Migratory birds also need our help—populations are facing steep declines across the board. By consolidating and visualizing these data, the Bird Migration Explorer can teach us more about how to protect these incredible travelers that connect people across the entire hemisphere,” said Deppe.
Since 1970, North America has lost more than 2.5 billion migratory birds. By visualizing and highlighting the places birds need not only during breeding and wintering seasons, but also throughout the migratory periods in between, the Bird Migration Explorer provides a scientific basis for necessary conservation policies and solutions to address these steep declines.
“We’re in a golden age of bird migration research and technology, and by consolidating all of these data into one interactive platform, we can better understand which places can have the biggest impact to help migratory birds,” said Melanie Smith, director of the Bird Migration Explorer for Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative. “The unprecedented volume and integration of the Bird Migration Explorer’s data can lead to better conservation efforts and results.”
The Bird Migration Explorer brings together three types of geospatial bird data: abundance data from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird Status models; connectivity data from the USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center Bird Banding Lab and Bird Genoscape Project; and tracking data from Birds Canada, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and hundreds of researchers from across the globe, who generously contributed their datasets to this project. Audubon scientists and cartographers consolidated these data to create animated and interactive visualizations to bring species migration to life on a map.
“The Bird Migration Explorer is an urgently-needed new tool for conservation and an outstanding collaborative achievement! Using the explorer, people can discover the magnificence of migratory birds, the challenges they face, and efforts to conserve them – including steps anyone can take to help birds. Birds Canada is a proud partner, contributing expertise and big data from the Motus Wildlife Tracking System and projects using other tracking technologies.”
— Stu Mackenzie, director of strategic assets, Birds Canada.
“The Bird Migration Explorer is a state-of-the-art data visualization platform that brings to life the incredible transcontinental journeys of our migratory birds, using the latest available data on migratory connectivity for hundreds of species, and highlights the places and pathways these birds depend on throughout their full annual cycle, as well as the challenges they may face along the way. This tool will no doubt be of great interest to researchers, conservationists, educators and bird enthusiasts alike, and will only become more rich over time.”
— Arvind Panjabi, avian conservation scientist, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.
“The Bird Migration Explorer brings together cutting-edge technologies and decades of hard work by migration scientists from various backgrounds into a single invaluable tool that provides easy-to-access insights into the movement patterns of our backyard birds and the challenges they face along the way.”
— Dr. Kristen Ruegg, co-director, Bird Genoscape Project.
“Of the 10 countries with the greatest number of globally threatened birds, six of them are in Americas, as the 2022 State of the World’s Birds Report shows. In that context, the Bird Migration Explorer is a vital new tool to illuminate crucial bird conservation opportunities and help reimagine conservation investments across the Western Hemisphere, building on Important Bird Areas and other key scientific work. We’re excited to put this tool to use and make a difference for biodiversity and communities.”
— Patricia Zurita, CEO, BirdLife International.
“In the last 50 years we’ve lost nearly one-third of all breeding birds in the U.S. and Canada. But tools like the Bird Migration Explorer provide us with hope. They show not only the commitment of organizations and scientists to reversing these declines, but the dedication of hundreds of thousands of people from across the Americas who provide us with a new way to see our world by contributing data to eBird.”
— Chris Wood, managing director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Avian Population Studies.
“The National Audubon Society’s Bird Migration Explorer combines the integrative power of maps and dynamic apps to drive new insights into the incredible journey of birds across the Americas. It illuminates the importance and urgency of challenges inherent in the journey of these birds through our backyards, neighborhoods, states, and across vast landscapes. It is my hope that those who interact with the Explorer app gain a new understanding of the dynamic natural systems around us and are inspired to find meaningful ways to protect and sustain our natural world.”
— Jack Dangermond, co-founder and president, Esri.
“One of the greatest challenges in bird conservation is knowing where they’re coming from and where they’re going. On the heels of realizing that we’re losing the majority of our bird species, tools like the Bird Migration Explorer that simply communicate detailed data help conservationists become surgically precise to implement solutions that save birds.”
— Dr. Peter P. Marra, director, The Earth Commons—Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment & Sustainability.
“Scientists have discovered so much about bird migration through animal tracking, but the results are scattered across hundreds of projects and research papers. We have been thrilled to help the Bird Migration Explorer bring these movements together with other data and see what they can tell us—with these striking visualizations, we can discover birds and their migrations, connect them to our home towns, and learn how to help conserve them for future generations.”
— Sarah Davidson, data curator, Movebank, a research platform hosted by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior.
“In times of uncertainty, birds are a symbol of hope, connectivity and perseverance. This new platform brings vital research together and shows how birds connect communities, countries and continents. From tracking and studying birds in native, urban, and agricultural habitats and successfully breeding species in human care for the first time to creating an immersive exhibit dedicated to these feathered travelers, the Smithsonian is working with partners and the public to understand and protect the grand phenomenon of bird migration.”
— Scott Sillett, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
This article was first published by Audubon on 15 September 2022. Lead Image: Sandhill Cranes. Photo: Tara Tanaka/Audubon Photography Awards.
What you can do
Support ‘Fighting for Wildlife’ by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute. Thank you.
Fighting for Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. When making a donation you can designate for which type of initiative it should be used – wildlife, oceans, forests or climate.