Migration Forecast

Weather maps are a familiar sight. We check the forecast to see what to wear, whether or not to wash the car, or to see if our beach day will get rained out. Doppler radar shows us storms marching across the country, tracks lightening strikes, wind speed and direction, and provides real-time predictions of bird migration.

Bird migration?

Meet the BirdCast website. BirdCast develops and maintains tools that predict and monitor bird migration. These include forecast and real-time bird migration maps that predict how much, where and when bird migration will occur, using radar measurements from the US weather surveillance radar network.

As most birds migrate at night, real-time data shows intensities of actual nocturnal bird migration between sunset and sunrise. And you can get specific data by state and county.

For example, I’m writing this on April 15th at 11:00pm and there are 120 million birds predicted to fly over the continental United States tonight. The map is color coded to show the areas of heaviest traffic.

What about local activity, can I see what’s happening right now? South Carolina currently has 3,841,800 birds in flight with 1,169,100 already crossed, and Charleston County currently has 70,400 birds in flight with 135,300 already crossed.

Interesting data for scientists, for sure. But how is this helpful to the average backyard birder? Well, first it’s just a cool site to play around with. You’ll be amazed at the depth of available data, and I’ll warn you, it’s a little bit addictive.

And those birds have to come down at some time to rest and refuel and that’s usually in the early morning hours. Go out at sunrise and you’ll notice new visitors to your backyard, hear unfamiliar birdsongs, and with a little luck and a good pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to add a few more birds to your life list.

For a unique perspective of migration, go outdoors and sit quietly in the cool night air and see if you can hear them passing overhead. Last year my husband and I were lucky enough to hear flocks of Bobolinks flying over Seabrook Island during fall migration. Fortunately for the observer, birds vocalize while on the wing, making night flight calls that can aid in their identification.

So how accurate is it? It’s now Sunday. April 16th, and here’s a look back at what actually happened in Charleston County last night.

With peak migration occurring over the next few weeks, this is the perfect time to give BirdCast a try. As you can see from the data we’re in the early days of migration, with May giving us much to look forward to. So give it a shot. Check the birdcast for your area, head out into the night to listen, get up a little earlier to go birding, and see if you can catch a glimpse of your overnight travelers.

Sources: Audubon – The Sights and Sounds of Nighttime Flights

BirdCast website is where you can start your own migration exploration!

Submitted by Gina Sanders

2 thoughts on “Migration Forecast”

  1. Many thanks to Gina for yet another informative and timely article. Anyone with a special interest in migration will want to read World on the Wing as it tells the story of several noteworthy migrations around the world. Very educational and interesting.


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