By CHRISTINA LARSON, AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — A bay-breasted warbler weighs about the same as four cents, but twice a year it takes an extraordinary trip. The little songbird travels nearly 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 Birds Initiative at the National Audubon Society.
A new online atlas of bird migration, released Thursday, draws on an unprecedented number of scientific and community data sources to illustrate the routes of about 450 species of birds in the Americas, including warblers.
The Bird Migration Explorer mapping tool, available free to the public, is an ongoing collaboration between 11 groups that collect and analyze bird movement data, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, the 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 the USGS, community scientific observations entered into Cornell’s eBird platform. , genomic analysis of feathers to identify bird origins and other data.
“The last twenty years have seen a real renaissance of different technologies to track bird migrations around the world at scales not previously possible,” said Peter Marra, a bird migration expert at the Georgetown University which collaborated on the project.
The site allows a user to enter a species – for example, osprey – and observe movements over the course of a year. For example, data for 378 tracked ospreys appears as yellow dots that move between the coasts of North America and South America as a calendar bar scrolls 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, bobolinks 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 develop. Melanie Smith, program manager for the site, said the next phase of expansion will add more seabird data.
Washington, DC resident Michael Herrera started birding about four months ago and quickly got 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 used to sound like background noise suddenly make sense.”
Herrera said he was eager to learn more about the migratory routes of waterbirds in the mid-Atlantic region, such as great blue herons and great egrets.
Marra from Georgetown hopes public engagement will help shine a light on some of the conservation challenges facing the birds, including habitat loss and climate change.
Over the past 50 years, the bird population in the United States and Canada has fallen nearly 30%, with migratory species facing some of the steepest declines.
Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina.
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