May 4, 2017
Migration is a dangerous undertaking. For conservation efforts to be effective, scientists need to better understand just what threats birds face along the way, and how those obstacles are changing in an increasingly human-dominated world.
A new paper from Smithsonian, Nature Conservancy, and other agency scientists assesses the state of the science on bird migration across the Gulf of Mexico, and identifies both research gaps and new technology that can help fill them.
Mysteries on the Wing
Each spring and fall, neotropical songbirds amass by the millions to migrate between North and South America. Warblers, vireos, and other passerines typically fly across the Gulf of Mexico in a single, brutal 18-to-24 hour flight, while raptors circumnavigate the Gulf’s western shores.
Many birds don’t survive. By measuring populations at the breeding and wintering grounds, scientists know that the majority of mortality for these species occurs during migration. What obstacles do these birds face along their journey, and just how, when and where are these birds dying?
“Migration is still a bit of a black box,” says Emily Cohen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) and lead author on the research. “For nearctic neotropical long distance migrants, we just don’t have a holistic picture of sources of mortality during the migratory periods.”