HOUSTON (CW39) – Many species of birds call North America home in the summer and spend their winters closer to the equator, in Latin and Central America. Twice a year these birds migrate between the two nesting locations. Millions of birds that spent the winter in Central and South America fly north to select mates and breed. They first travel into the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican coast.


Using weather radar to detect birds!

Radar can be used for much more than determining what part of town is experiencing rain. BirdCast, uses weather radar data to determine flight directions of birds aloft to track the migratory patterns! In the earlier years of radar development, operators noticed movement on the screen that confused them. These dots did not correspond to any weather condition or aircraft.

Radar captures information about anything in the atmosphere that can scatter its energy pulsed back towards it. Aircraft, Saharan dust, to hordes of mayflies, forest fire smoke plumes, and BIRDS can all be tracked via radar.

In early March, the birds reach the tip of the peninsula, weather permitting, they leave for Mexico and head north across the Gulf of Mexico right before the sunset. The trip across the Gulf is 600 miles! 18 long hours later, on a good day, they arrive to their stop, TEXAS!

After landing along the Texas coast, some of these birds call it quits and take a break; but most will fly inland until nightfall.

You can use this real time analysis chart to determine where the most birds are passing in the moment. Cornell Lab of Ornithology produces these maps, with research support from NASA. Brighter colors indicates a higher migration traffic rate (MTR) expressed in units birds/km/hour. Orange arrows show directions to which birds flew. The red line moving east to west represents the timing of local sunset.