WASHINGTON (AP) – A humpback weighs the same as four pennies, but makes an unusual trip twice a year. The tiny bird flies almost 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) between the spruce forests of Canada and its wintering grounds in northern South America.
“Migratory birds are these little globetrotters,” said Jill Deppe, senior director of the migratory bird initiative at the National Audubon Society.
A new online atlas of bird migration, published Thursday, draws from an unprecedented number of scientific and community data sources to chart the routes of about 450 bird species in the Americas, including warblers.
The Bird Migration Explorer mapping tool, which is freely available to the public, is an ongoing collaboration between 11 groups that collect and analyze data on bird movements, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Smithsonian Immigrant Bird Center, Survey US Geological Survey, Georgetown University, Colorado. State University, and the National Audubon Society.
For the first time, the site will bring together online data from hundreds of scientific studies that use GPS tags to track bird movements, as well as more than 100 years of bird banding data collected by USGS, community science comments submitted to Cornell’s eBird platform. , genomic analysis of feathers to trace the origins of birds, and other data.
“The last two decades have seen a real renaissance in various technologies to track bird migration around the world on scales that were not possible before,” said Peter Marra, a bird migration expert at Georgetown University who collaborated on the project.
This site allows a user to enter a species – for example, the hospital – and view movements over a year. For example, data from 378 tracked ospreys shows as a yellow dot that moves between coastal North America and South America as a calendar bar passes through the months of the year.
Or users can enter their city of residence and click elsewhere on the map for a partial list of birds that migrate between the two locations. For example, ospreys, pobolinks and at least 12 other species migrate between Washington, DC and Fonte Boa, Brazil.
As new tracking data becomes available, the site will continue to expand. Melanie Smith, program director for the site, said the next phase of expansion will add more data about seabirds.
Washington, DC resident Michael Herrera started bird watching about four months ago and was quickly hooked. “It’s almost like this hidden world that’s right in front of your eyes,” he said. “When you start paying attention, suddenly all these details that were like background noise make sense.”
Herrera said he is eager to learn more about the migratory routes of waterfowl in the mid-Atlantic region, such as great blue herons and great egrets.
Marra Georgetown hopes that community involvement will help highlight some of the conservation challenges facing birds, including habitat loss and climate change.
Over the past 50 years, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by nearly 30%, with some of the largest declines occurring in migratory species.
Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina.
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