While this new season means the bushes and trees may have gone quiet around you, we’re entering one of the best times for bird watching. With a whole new crop of young birds fresh out of the nest, there are more birds around now than at any other time of year. Many of them are on their way south, beginning perhaps their first journey to Central or South America with little more than the strength of their young wings and the light of the stars to get them there.
Wherever you live, each new fall morning brings the possibility of new arrivals landing in your yard. Most songbirds migrate at night, gauging wind and weather patterns to decide whether to run for miles with a tailwind or to duck out of rainstorms or headwinds. In a recent post at our blog, Cornell Lab scientist Andrew Farnsworth described a typical night of migration during a special occasion, the 9/11 Tribute in Light. He stood on top of the Empire State Building, and later watched from the foot of the Tribute, to count the numbers of migrants passing over.
Farnsworth is a very skilled birder who can recognize many birds just by the unique, tenth-of-a-second flight calls they give at night. He’s a member of our expert birding team, the Sapsuckers, but he’s also a scientist who studies migration using advanced tools like weather radar and computer models.
His goal, in work like our BirdCast project, is to understand this phenomenal feat of the animal world, and to use the information to help make wind-energy installations and other projects safe for migrating birds. A side benefit is that BirdCast produces birding forecasts to give you an idea what kinds of migrants you might expect to find over the coming week.
On Tuesday night, Farnsworth recorded more than 2,000 birds of some 28 species—and he heard the soft chip notes of many thousands more. Weather radar measurements suggested there were 100–200 birds at any one time in a single cubic kilometer of the night sky over Manhattan, he said. Read the full story over at our blog.
I’ll freely admit that, had I been the one standing under the 9/11 tribute the other night, I might have counted significantly fewer birds and certainly would have missed a few of the species Andrew saw (Swainson’s thrush vs. veery at night, anyone?).
But the larger point is that birds are flooding across the continent right now—Tuesday night wasn’t even a very busy night, Andrew told me later. And I feel like I can never really get my fill of seeing warblers. So the thought of hundreds of redstarts, parulas, waterthrushes, ovenbirds, black-and-white warblers, and more sprinkling down around my backyard each night gives me hope each morning when I wake up.
Even more exciting are the species that only turn up twice a year, like magnolia, blackpoll, and Wilson’s warblers, spending summers farther north and winters farther south than me. Each time I see them in fall and spring it’s like I’m on a platform, waving to them on a train. What birds do you look forward to seeing when fall rolls around?
(Photos by Cameron Rognan.)