#33: Dr. Andrew Farnsworth – Predicting Bird Migrations with BirdCast

#33: Dr. Andrew Farnsworth – Predicting Bird Migrations with BirdCast Nature's Archive


My guest in this episode is Dr. Andrew Farnsworth. 

Andrew is a Senior Research Associate in the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and has a BS in Natural Resources from Cornell University, MS in Zoology from Clemson University, and PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell.

Andrew started birding at age 5 and quickly developed a fascination with bird migration, which continues to this day. His research advances the use and application of multiple technologies to study bird movements on continental scales. This includes the use of weather surveillance radar, audio and video recording and monitoring tools, citizen science datasets, and machine learning techniques.

Today we discuss one of his primary projects, BirdCast. BirdCast presents near real time bird migration status, provides migration forecasts up to three days out, and provides local migration alerts to inform conservation action.

Sandhill Cranes Migrating by Moonlight, photo by Michael Hawk

Creating BirdCast has required decades of research and a combination of many disciplines.  Andrew discusses how ground-truth observations, acoustics, and radar data are correlated to weather data to produce a predictive model that accurately forecasts migration days in advance. Andrew discusses how advances in computing technology and machine learning have dramatically advanced model accuracy and accelerated progress.

We get into the details of the model, including why temperature is the most important factor in bird migration prediction, how tropical storms impact migration, and why migration and monitoring in the western USA is different from the eastern USA.

We also discuss how birders can use BirdCast for their interests, and the many ways that migration prediction helps with conservation efforts, such as Lights Out Texas.

You can see the forecasts and a lot of research and technical data at birdcast.info, or follow the team @DrBirdCast, on twitter.

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People and Organizations

The Academy of Natural Sciences

Dr. Sidney Gauthreaux – Dr. Farnsworth’s advisor at Clemson University, and a pioneer in the field.

Lights Out Texas from Texan By Nature

Adriaan Doktor, Benjamin Van Doren and Kyle Horton from the birdcast team

Books and Other Things

WSR 88D (aka NexRAD) – the US National Weather Service overview of the technology

How radar detects birds (from birdcast.info)

Project Terra – learn more about bird telemetry, nocturnal flight calls, and associated tracking technologies

Brian Sullivan – Brian is a former project lead for eBird, also from the Cornell Lab. This episode discusses that, as well are many technological opportunities to better understand birds

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

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