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By April, spring migration is in full swing. Birders eagerly await the “first of the year” bird sightings at their favorite birding spots. We have kept track of yard birds for over 20 years at our property. We feel a rush of excitement and joy when we see and hear the first Tree Swallows fly down to our bird boxes each spring. The same is true for the first Rufous Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture sightings. Part of our amazement is the realization of how far the birds have travelled since we saw them last in the late summer.

Since its inception in 2002, eBird has become a repository for bird-sighting information. The 14 years worth of data can be used in new ways to illustrate the marvels of bird migrations. This year, eBird released a Mesmerizing Migration Map—see it at The data points represent millions of bird sightings by citizen scientists. Scientists have studied data showing the birds’ migration pathways and have concluded that a combination of geographic features and broad-scale atmospheric conditions influence the choice of routes used during spring and fall migration. The study finds that the spring migration path follows a more roundabout route but the birds move faster thanks to the presence of strong tailwinds as they head north to their breeding grounds. “It’s an exciting new area of research,” says lead author Frank La Sorte, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “By using eBird data and other forms of migration tracking information, we’re getting a more detailed picture than ever before about where and when birds migrate. That’s the kind of information we need to make smart conservation decisions for species that live in vastly different regions during the year. Citizen science makes it possible to do this for populations across an entire hemisphere.”

This type of citizen science engages birders across the globe. It helps us all feel as though we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. The birds travel wild and free, guided by instincts, with only their brains and beating hearts to get them to their destinations. We can help them by maintaining old habitats and creating new ones and by protecting lakes, forests, and valley flyways from destruction. The birds face many natural hazards, but we can reduce manmade hazards by choosing to preserve, protect, and cherish the natural richness of Earth. It is our Earth, but we are not the only ones using it. Spring is a celebration of the growing and breeding seasons and the renewal of our commitment to care for the beauty around us. We wish safe travels to the birds during the spring migration this year!