Part of the contest is a competition to see how many birds you can spot, but it also brings together citizen scientists who are finding new kinds of technology that can be applied to birding. The latest idea is watching large groups of birds migrate at night the same tracking device that meteorologists use to follow tornados and thunderstorms.
“I you look about an hour after sunset or hour before sunrise, you will see lot of small birds migrate to avoid daytime predators,” Miller said. “They come in such volume, you can see blue circles of radar and it’s not rain. We can coordinate models of winds aloft, and use Nexrad to tell more accurately days that are going to be good to experience bird migration.”
Miller says the University of Wisconsin’s site is particularly good for spotting birds in transit. It uses Nexrad (Next-Generation Radar), a network of 160 high-resolution Doppler weather radars operated by the National Weather Service across the United States.
While hobbyists like Miller and others are finding technology a great way to rapidly shout “look at this bird!,” scientists often use social media to help them get a better idea of changing migratory patterns, patterns that are feeling the effects of climate change.
“We found it to be incredibly effective to recruit and getting citizens excited about our programs,” said David McGlinchey, a spokesman for the Manomet Center for Conservation Science, a private research center in Plymouth, Mass., that has been running banding programs and shorebird surveys for the past 45 years. “Twitter especially really gets people fired up about it.”
While McGlinchey says technology and social media have made it easier for new birders to share the excitement of bird-watching, he says most of their large-scale scientific projects still require pre-Internet tools: a clipboard, binoculars and a long form to fill out detailing the bird’s position and behavior.
“For data reporting, we’re old-fashioned that way,” McGlinchey said.