Using BirdCast

by Em
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There are so many wonderful tools available to birders today–especially new birders. I learned how to look for birds using binoculars, a field guide and my ears and eyes!

If you’re in the United States, the BirdCast Migration Dashboard can help you know when to look for specific birds in your area. It was created to “provide real-time predictions of bird migrations: when they migrate, where they migrate, and how far they will be flying.”

a graphic with examples of data from the BirdCast Migration Dashboard

The Dashboard just started up again for the 2024 spring migration on March 1st. I check it every morning to find out how many birds flew over my county overnight. That gives me a good idea about whether it might be a good day to go birding or look for new visitors in my own backyard. When you first check it out you might be shocked to think of 53,000 birds flying over your area at night (how do they all have room up there?), but that’s a very low number. In the past I’ve seen that number get as high as 16 million birds!

On the right side of the dashboard there’s a list of birds (with photos) that can normally be expected in your area during different times of the migration season. Of course keep in mind that ducks and shorebirds probably won’t land in your backyard. But you can keep an eye out for those species in a local pond (sometimes even a retention pond) or lake or stream.

a graphic showing a list of birds expected in a particular area

Earlier this week the Dashboard showed the Fox Sparrow as being an expected bird for my area. I’ve seen them in my backyard through the years, but not very often. Well, wasn’t I surprised to find one hopping around in my lawn that very morning!

a photo of a Fox Sparrow in a lawn

Fox Sparrows are big for a sparrow, and they have lovely reddish-brown streaks on their sides and bellies. These birds prefer to look for insects and other food while under the cover of dense shrubs and trees, so they’re not as commonly seen during the breeding season (although they may be heard). During migration season, however, they are known to visit backyards.

I assume this bird had just arrived overnight because he was singularly focused on eating, and even when a hawk showed up, he froze for just a few moments before foraging again while the rest of the neighborhood birds and rodents ran for cover.

Fox Sparrows can be hard to spot when they are jumping around in the leaf litter.

I’m so glad this one stopped in for a visit during the migration season!

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