The national network of weather surveillance radars (WSR-88D) detects flying birds and is a useful remote-sensing tool for ornithological study. We used data collected during fall 2008 and 2009 by 16 WSR-88D radars in the northeastern U.S. to quantify the spatial distribution of landbirds during migratory stopover. We geo-referenced estimates based on radar reflectivity, of the density of migrants aloft at their abrupt evening exodus from daytime stopover sites, to the approximate locations from which they emerged. We classified bird stopover use by the magnitude and variation of radar reflectivity across nights; areas were considered “important” stopover sites for conservation if bird density was consistently high. We developed statistical models that predict potentially important stopover sites across the region, based on land cover, ground elevation, and geographic location. Large areas of regionally important stopover sites were located along the coastlines of Long Island Sound, throughout the Delmarva Peninsula, in areas surrounding Baltimore and Washington, along the western edge of the Adirondack Mountains, and within the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia. Locally important stopover sites generally were associated with deciduous forests embedded within landscapes dominated by developed or agricultural lands, or near the shores of major water bodies. Preserving or enhancing patches of natural habitat, particularly deciduous forests, in developed or agricultural landscapes and along major coastlines could be a priority for conservation plans addressing the stopover requirements of migratory landbirds in the northeastern U.S. Our maps of important stopover sites can be used to focus conservation efforts and can serve as a sampling frame for fieldwork to validate radar observations or for ecological studies of landbirds on migratory stopover.
Additional publication details
Radar analysis of fall bird migration stopover sites in the northeastern U.S.