In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film, The Birds, elderly ornithologist Mrs. Bundy assuredly states that “[she has] never known birds of different species to flock together,” and claims that “the very concept is unimaginable.”
Well, to you Mrs. Bundy, we say take a look at this animated map of 118 different bird species migrating in broad unison, and then try to tell us what is and isn’t “unimaginable”!
The hypnotic animated map, which brings to life the migratory patterns of 118 bird species in the Western Hemisphere (each dot represents a unique bird species), was created and by a team of scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a visual representation of the findings of the Cornell scientists, which were recently published in their entirety in the Royal Society’s journal Proceedings B.
Frank La Sorte, lead author of the paper, says that “After tracing the migration routes of all these [118 bird] species and comparing them, we concluded that a combination of geographic features and broad-scale atmospheric conditions influence the choice of routes used during spring and fall migration.” In other words, the different species converge on similar routes because some are more effective than others (more direct with the least amount of headwind). For example, the bird species flying over the Atlantic Ocean to spend the winter chillaxing in the Caribbean and South America follow a clockwise loop as they fly further inland and back up north during spring.
Aside from the nifty GIF and the refined migratory model, the paper is also notable because the Cornell scientists behind it “used millions of observations from the eBird citizen-science database” to build its model. The paper essentially had much of its research crowdsourced, representing a productive symbiosis between amateurs who can produce extraordinary amounts of data from around the world, and expert researchers who can synthesize that data.
So from now on, whether you’re watching a bobolink or black-billed cuckoo or Cape May warbler glide across the sky, you can think to yourself, “I know where you’re going little guy.” Then you can snap a picture, upload it with the time and your location, and do your part for ornithological science! It’s probably a good idea to keep an eye on the birds anyway, so we’ll know if they ever start turning on us.
Feature image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services