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Following Bird Migration with Doppler

One of the coolest applications of technology to birding of the past few years has been the re-purposing of pulse-doppler radar, a meteorological tool used primarily to determine the velocity and strength of weather systems, as a means to detect migratory birds.  Because migratory birds travel almost exclusively at night, these radar screens will show bursts of activity that look like nothing so much as blue paint thrown at a map nearly immediately after sundown.  This activity often corresponds to increased numbers of migratory birds the next morning across much of the continent.

To get an idea of what to look for, have a look at this video from one night earlier this month.  

WARNING: The soundtrack to this video is cheesy. I highly recommend turning your speakers down before hitting play!  Trust me.


If you’re not interested in watching the doppler yourself, there are two websites who interpret doppler signatures during spring and fall.  Both are recommended for birders, at least those on the eastern half of the continent, who are interested in following migration as it happens.  As a bonus, you’ll get tipped off to those days that are likely to be spectacular., based out of New Jersey, is the gold standard.  David La Puma of New Jersey Audubon runs this excellent site that focuses on New Jersey, but is applicable to much of the northeast quarter of the US and the southeast part of Canada. I’ve even found that David’s predictions of fallout conditions in New Jersey are generally good for similar days where I live in North Carolina as well.

For those interested in the first wave of migrants crossing the Gulf of Mexico, Florida based BadBirdz Migration is the one to watch. David La Puma had his hand in this site as well, but it’s currently managed by Florida birders Angel and Mariel Abreu (Update: Angel and Mariel own and operate the site), who do a fantastic job with it.

I’m unaware of similar set-ups in the western part of the continent, though one would undoubtedly be useful to have.  If any ABA blog readers know of anyone interpreting doppler radar for migrating birds, please let me know in the comments. For the time being, any birder with a computer can do it themselves.  David offers a tutorial here:

Video tutorial for viewing nocturnal bird migration using radar from David La Puma on Vimeo.

Just a little something to get you all prepared for a productive spring.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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