Follow that flock!

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Color in southern US in winter, color in Rocky Mountains during spring and summer, burst of color throughout country in fall

Click on the image to follow the flocks of American Pipits throughout the year. Courtesy: eBird

You don’t have to be a birder or ornithologist (a.k.a. a bird scientist) to think this graphic is fascinating. This map shows where American Pipits, a small, sparrow-like bird, can be found throughout the year (click on it to watch the animation of their migration).

The American Pipit likes the open country. During its breeding season, the little birds set up camp in high tundra latitudes, such as the Arctic, and high alpine altitudes, such as the Rocky Mountains. This is why you may notice they nearly disappear from the map in the spring and summer.

In October and November, these itinerant birds stampede southward to the lower 48 states, congregating in habitats such as beaches, marshes, farm fields and short-grass prairies. Hence the explosion of color on the map through the late fall and winter months.

This map is part of the eBird collection, a tool created and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. Using observations submitted by their army of recreational and professional birders, the lab’s scientists create these maps to track which areas of the country are important for bird species at any given time of the year. The maps also show the regions where birds flock, and where just a few fly—the legend indicates the density of the flocks.

The eBird maps contribute to the suite of tools that help scientists better understand the patterns of biodiversity around the world. However, no tool is perfect, and the map does not reveal all the Pipit’s secrets. For example, their spring migration pattern is largely missing from the map. Could that be because all the birders have flocked to the woods in the spring, leaving no one to watch the Pipits depart the fields?