WASHINGTON (AP) – A bay-breasted tern weighs about the same as four pennies, but twice a year it makes an extraordinary journey. The tiny songbird flies nearly 4,000 miles (6,437 km) between the spruce forests of Canada and its wintering grounds in northern South America.
“Migratory birds are these little globetrotters,” said Jill Depp, the 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 some 450 species of birds in the Americas, including warblers.
The Bird Migration Explorer mapping tool, available free to the public, is an ongoing collaboration among 11 groups that collect and analyze data on bird movements, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, the US Geological Survey, the University Georgetown, 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 data collected by USGS, community-based scientific observations entered into Cornell’s eBird platform . , genomic analysis of feathers to trace bird origins, and other data.
“The last twenty years have seen a real renaissance in various technologies to track bird migrations around the world at scales that weren’t possible before,” said Peter Marra, a bird migration expert at Georgetown University who collaborated on the project.
The site allows a user to enter a species – for example, osprey – and track movements over the course of a year. For example, data from 378 spotted ospreys are shown as yellow dots moving between coastal North America and South America as a calendar line moves through the months of the year.
Or users can enter the city where they live and click elsewhere on the map for a partial list of birds that migrate between the two locations. For example, ospreys, ospreys, 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 seabird data.
Washington resident Michael Herrera started birdwatching 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. “Once you start paying attention, all those details that seemed like background noise suddenly 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, of Georgetown, hopes public participation 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 US and Canada have declined by nearly 30%, with migratory species experiencing some of the steepest declines.
Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina.
The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.