The new Cornell maps of bird migrations look for all the world like works of art: great swaths of color splash across digital canvasses that would be at home on the walls of a modern art museum.
They are also the most powerful tools yet for deciphering the inner workings of the migrations each spring and fall. As if that’s not enough, the maps could hold the key to determining how birds are adapting to global warming.
“The amount of information in these maps is way beyond what any single source or even combination of sources could give you,’’ said Marshall Iliff, project leader for Cornell’s eBird program. “It’s on a scale that’s never been done before.’’
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced the latest phase of its mapping project two months ago to only limited fanfare in the early going. That’s likely to change as word gets out and more animations are added beyond the first 107 species.
What sets the new maps apart is the way they come alive with the click of a button. You suddenly see a species’ entire migration unfold, moving south over the course of the fall and then back north during the spring. The maps are fueled
by the tens of millions of bird lists sent in by 120,000 birders across the hemisphere. The animations are then adjusted with a stew of scientific, satellite and wildlife data to approximate and in some cases predict how the collective birds will move.
As a result, the animations are one of the most ambitious scientific crowd-sourcing experiments underway anywhere today. “We’re really excited about it,’’ said Iliff. “It’s definitely big data ornithology. It’s a whole new concept.’’
( Click here for an index of the 107 species in the first phase of the project. Click here to explore that data behind the maps, which can help birders find hotspots and explore raw observations about species. And click here for the introduction to the eBird maps).