Watch Songbird Migration Online

BirdCast on 3 Sep 2019, 4:50a (screenshot from Live BirdCast map)

5 September 2019

Songbird migration is underway across the continent but we can’t see it happening outdoors because the birds travel at night. However, we can watch them online.

Radar can see birds in flight so Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdCast uses national radar data to plot where, when and what direction the birds are moving. Click the BirdCast link to see the most recent video. Watch sunset (red bar) sweep across the continent and the birds start to move, then sunrise (yellow bar) sweep across and migration stops for the day. The date above the map is a pulldown menu for selecting prior nights.

The BirdCast screenshot above was taken on Tuesday 3 September on a night when many birds left Pittsburgh on their way to the Gulf coast. At 4:50am you can see them lighting up the BirdCast map from southwestern Pennsylvania to Mississippi.

Before BirdCast existed, I watched weather radar for a snapshot of current bird activity. BirdCast filters the weather map so you see only the birds. The Weather Service does not so you’ll want to check out this vintage article — Watch Migration On Radar — for a quick tutorial on how to read the map.

The screenshot below was taken from Great Lakes weather radar on the same date and time as the BirdCast snapshot at top. Notice the differences!

Great Lakes weather radar, 3 Sep 2019, 4:50a (screenshot from the National Weather Service)

Wisconsin and Lake Michigan are brightly colored on the weather map because of heavy rain. That same area is a dark spot on BirdCast because birds don’t migrate in a storm. BirdCast also shows no birds moving in Florida; Hurricane Dorian was there.

Last night, Sep 4-5, the wind was from the north and skies were clear west of the Appalachians. BirdCast and weather radar both show birds on the move from Pennsylvania and Illinois to the Tennessee and Mississippi Valleys.

BirdCast and Great Lakes radar, 5 Sep 2019, 4:10am (from BirdCast and NWS)

It’s a good day to go birding.

(screenshot maps from BirdCast and the National Weather Service Great Lakes)

3 thoughts on “Watch Songbird Migration Online

  1. a bird in my backyard says TEEDELEE TEEDELEE TEEDELEE very loud and sharp as a piccolo. smallish, gray-brownish, can’t see any particular colors or marks, & now he’s gone. I don’t think I’ve heard him before. So how does one “look up” birds by song?

    1. Good question, Kathy. I usually guess the bird and then look up its sounds at Xeno Canto. My guess about your bird is a Tufted Titmouse. They make a lot of different sounds and are molting so some of them don’t have a defined head crest right now.

  2. Kathy,
    There’s an app for that. There’s an app for everything dontchaknow!
    BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species.
    BirdGenie™: ID Birds by Song (App) by Princeton University … › apps › birdgenie

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