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  Radar Studies

The intensive mist-net based research that we conduct at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory is extremely important for answering many questions about migratory bird behavior during migration. Questions related to species-habitat association, rates of mass gain during stopover, length of stopover, and other stopover behaviors can only be answered through our intensive research efforts. However, the research that we conduct at BBBO is limited in its geographical scope. New technological advances allow us to study bird migration at large geographic scales, and can be combined with our intensive research efforts to create a more complete picture of bird migration in the Great Lakes basin. 

With NEXRAD radar, it is now possible to monitor bird migration across the United States. This radar technology is the same that you see television meteorologists use on the evening weather report. Radar is designed to detect objects in the atmosphere. Rain, birds, bats, insects, and even smoke plumes and dust clouds can be detected by radar. Determining what you are looking at on a radar screen is a bit of an art, but with practice, it is possible to distinguish bird activity from other activity in the atmosphere. In collaboration with the Clemson University Radar Ornithology Laboratory, we are utilizing NEXRAD to identify areas where birds concentrate during migration throughout the Great Lakes basin. 

This radar image was recorded from the Buffalo, New York NEXRAD location on the evening of May 23, 2001. The radar device is located at the center of the screen, surrounded by bright colors showing migratory bird activity. The relative number of birds in each pixel on the radar screen is indicated by the color coded scale on the left side of the screen. In this case, deep reds and purples indicate larger numbers of birds. Notice that Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are outlined by bird activity. Since the image is showing migratory landbirds that are taking flight at the onset of nocturnal migration, we would not expect to see any migrant activity over the lakes. However, as the night goes on, we can see that the birds fly over the lake. Click on the image above to see a one-hour loop of this migration event. Note that the line of colors running north-south through Lake Erie to the west of the radar location is a line of rain storms, and not bird activity.

Imagery from the Buffalo, NY NEXRAD location has revealed concentration areas along the south shore of Lake Ontario, through the Niagara River corridor, and along the Lake Erie shoreline. During fall migration, we have also detected concentrations of birds leaving the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge / Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area complex. At Braddock Bay Bird Observatory, we can watch the radar at night to give us an advance warning of what conditions will be like at the research stations the next morning. On evenings with significant migrant activity, we can anticipate that the next day will be busy at the research stations. This allows us to have adequate personnel on hand in order to run a complete protocol.

If you are interested in learning more about utilizing radar in ornithological research, we recommend the Clemson website.

Please check back soon for more exciting results from this project.

More information on our research program can be found by following the links to the left. For more information on the data we collect, or to explore collaborative research ideas, please contact our research department


Braddock Bay Bird Observatory 2003