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BirdCast now shows real-time bird migration at county level

Townsend’s Warbler. Photo by Craig Kerns, courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Since spring 2018, the BirdCast website, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Colorado State University, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has offered forecasts and live bird migration maps that elegantly show the movements of migratory birds across North America. The site’s daily updates during migratory periods have helped birders understand when and where to expect birds the next morning.

As of today, April 20, 2022, the BirdCast team has unveiled its new Migration Dashboard. The Dashboard reveals bird migration in localized detail previously unavailable to the public.

“With this new Migration Dashboard, you get facts and figures about what’s going on in the skies above you at the county level in near-real time,” said Andrew Farnsworth, senior researcher with BirdCast. “In recent years, we’ve been able to visualize and forecast the movements of migrating birds on a continent-wide scale, using weather surveillance radar. That’s been fascinating, but now you can also get a feel for what’s going on in your own neck of the woods. We want to elevate people’s abilities to understand bird migration, to talk about migration. There is tremendous potential for learning here. We don’t come close to knowing all the patterns that you will be able to explore when you look at this tool. It’s very exciting!”

This is an example of the new Dashboard’s live view from BirdCast. Image courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Dashboard shows how many birds are estimated to have flown over a particular county in the lower 48 states on any given night during migration, updated in near-real time. It shows how many birds are currently aloft, how fast they are going, what direction they are headed, how high they’re flying, and how the ebb and flow of their movements during the night compares to historic patterns. If you’re not a night owl, you can catch up with the previous night’s action the next day. The Dashboard does all this using weather surveillance radar to measure the density of a mass of birds. That measure is then turned into an estimate of numbers.


“One of the most compelling things about the new Dashboard is that it’s focusing on a phenomenon that is largely taking place out of sight and most likely when we’re asleep,” said Audrey Carlsen, who led the design and development of the Dashboard for the Cornell Lab. “Massive quantities of living creatures are flying through the night sky. This is our best tool right now to try to understand migration.”

The Dashboard puts a face on migration—feathered faces—by offering a list of species expected to be passing overhead at the current time and place. Knowing the who, where, and when of migration can lead directly to action. What are the best nights for turning off lights to prevent attracting birds and risking building collisions? Where is the best location to build wind turbines to avoid killing birds? The information can be used by a wide range of people, from conservationists and biologists, to birdwatchers and nature lovers.

“I can’t wait to see the effect the BirdCast Migration Dashboard will have when people are able to see detailed migration information for their own county,” said Ian Owens, executive director of the Cornell Lab. “I can’t think of a better catalyst for people to find ways to protect those species and habitats.”


Sign up for a free webinar about the BirdCast Migration Dashboard being held today from, noon to 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.


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