Princeton students study the secret sites where America’s migrating songbirds stop to rest and refuel

540   2 months ago
tiger103 | 0 subscribers
540   2 months ago
Every year, billions of birds migrate thousands of miles from their summer breeding ranges to their warmer wintering ranges and back. However, the question of where these birds stop to rest and refuel along the way has long stumped ornithologists. Princeton Ph.D. student Fengyi Guo and her colleagues from Princeton and the University of Delaware address this question in a published paper by using weather radar imagery to map the birds’ migratory stopover sites in North America.

Using weather surveillance radar to compute and compare bird movement patterns across five years of spring and fall migrations, Guo and her team pinpointed over 2.4 million hectares of land as key stopover hotspots for landbirds across the eastern United States.

“Most landbirds migrate at night, and they typically lift off from their stopover site to continue their journeys shortly after sunset. Weather radar actually captures this movement of birds, but it requires a lot of processing of the data ,” explains Guo. “Each weather radar actively samples the atmosphere every 6-10 minutes and can detect the take-off of birds up to 80 km in radius. Sampling the nightly take-off patterns gives us the spatial details of the daily stopover habitat use of those transient migrants.”

The fast-growing field of radar ornithology provides an invaluable peek at the secret lives of migratory birds at an unprecedented scale. David Wilcove, a C-PREE faculty member and co-author of the paper, explains the importance.

“Fengyi’s work using weather radar images of migration provides us with the first accurate picture of where the key stopover sites for these birds are across the eastern United States.” Wilcove explains. “This information is incredibly important. Without it, we wouldn’t know which sites to protect to ensure safe passage for the birds.”

The radar imagery showed that stopover hotspots along the eastern U.S. consist primarily of deciduous forests, including forest fragments in broadly deforested regions. These hotspots serve as crucial pitstops for large numbers of landbirds each year. Protecting these sites helps to ensure the long-term viability of all the bird species that sojourn at these sites.
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