Audubon scientists develop new method to improve mapping of bird migrations

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NEW YORK – More than forty scientists from the National Audubon Society and other bird and wildlife research and conservation groups have published a new study model a new approach to map seasonal migration for the birds. The study, recently published in Ecological applications, a part of best available forms of migration data for 12 species of migratory birds that represented different families, migration strategies, breeding ranges and sizes of available data sets.

“Migratory birds make some of the most impressive journeys on earth, and this new method of mapping their migrations gives us a clearer picture of where these birds travel,” said Dr. quantitative ecologist for the National Audubon Society and lead author of the study.

The migration data used in this study can be categorized into three broad categories: patterns of occurrence and abundance, represented by the eBird Status products of the Cornell Ornithology Lab; band re-encounter data, provided by the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory; and tracking datasets contributed by researchers around the world and made available on .The researchers integrated these types of migration data for 12 species relying on the strengths of each, to movements of migratory birds. The models give researchers a unique picture of avian migration, especially for species with migrations over water or migrations that take place across geographies.

“Birds tell us about the health of our environment, and better mapping of their migration routes shows us where we should focus our conservation efforts,” said Dr. , senior director of Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative and co-author of the study. “These new maps will help communities across the hemisphere protect migratory birds and the places they need.”

For many species of migratory birds, the complete annual cycle remains relatively unknown or poorly understood. The three types of data describe the annual cycle in different ways; banding and tracking data provide detailed information on how individual birds move through the hemisphere, often allowing links between breeding and wintering populations, but they provide limited information on the movement of the whole of population. eBird Status products use information collected by community scientists to provide information on the distribution of the entire population throughout the year. By combining these two types of data, the researchers were able to generate maps that depict the pathways by which migratory birds move through the hemisphere. Migratory birds are also facing steep declines, with an estimated 2.5 billion individuals lost between 1970 and 2019.

More types of migration data can allow this integration to be developed even further, filling knowledge gaps on species across the hemisphere.

“The more data we have and the better the tracking technology, the clearer these migration pathways can be,” Dr. , a quantitative ecologist and co-author of the study. “It’s exciting to be able to work with researchers around the world to put these pieces together and give us the best chance of protecting migratory birds.”

In addition to Audubon, the co-authors of the new study represent the following institutions and organizations:

  • Antioch University

  • University of Alberta

  • University of Georgia, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

  • SUNY College of Environmental and Forestry Sciences

  • Drexel University

  • Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, acopy Conservation Learning Center

  • Arkansas State University

  • 1000 Herons, Lenoir-Rhyne University

  • Albany Pinewood Preservation Commission

  • US Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

  • Wildlife Conservation Society Canada

  • Raptor View Research Institute

  • BirdsCanada

  • Millersville University

  • Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies

  • Vermont Center for Ecological studies

  • Cypress Grove Research Center, Audubon Canyon Ranch

  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, NCSU

  • USDA National Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi Field Station

  • Georgetown University

  • International Avian Research

  • California State Parks, UC Davis Geography Graduate Group

  • University of Guelph

  • Utah Division Wildlife Resources

  • Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

The National Audubon Society protects the birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, across the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and Audubon partners have an unprecedented scale reaching millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a non-profit conservation organization. Find out how to help audubon.org and follow us on Twitter and instagram at @audubonsociety.

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