Weather & Songbird Migration: Some Species Arriving!

March 4, 2020 by Team Journey North

The first report from Dr. David Aborn is here. Grab your binoculars and get ready!

It will not be too long before species such as this Rose-Breasted Grosbeak return from their overwintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America. Photo by: Mike (Journey North Member from Paducah, KY)

Dear Journey North Members,

Another spring migration season has arrived, and migratory birds are starting to arrive! I saw my first Purple Martin about 2 weeks ago, and Barn, Tree, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows have arrived in Texas, along with Yellow-throated Warblers. As in past years (this will be my 26th year reporting for JN!), I will be sharing news with you about how weather affects bird migration, and using weather maps to predict where birds will be arriving. Hopefully you have had a chance to read my tutorial on how to read a weather map and how to use them to predict bird movements. If we look at this week’s map, there is a lot going on. In the eastern and southern US, there is a cold front with several low pressure areas along it. This system is bringing lots of rain to the east and south, and spawned tornadoes in middle Tennessee. All that rain means that any migratory birds around will be grounded for another day or two. Behind the front, the skies are clear, and there are several high pressure areas, but the winds around them are not strong, so migratory birds should be able to head north as soon as the front clears.

In addition to weather maps, we can also use weather radar to look at migration. Modern weather radar is sensitive enough to pick up migrating birds, and we can learn a lot about how high and fast they are flying, what direction they are heading, and where they are taking off and landing. Just a few weeks ago, on February 20, the radar on Key West, FL picked up a large group of birds flying from Cuba, over the Keys, and into Florida. It is impressive, and many news networks talked about it ( That early in the season, the birds were almost certainly Purple Martins. If there are any other big movements picked up on radar this season, I will include them in my reports.

It will not be long before things get busy, so dust off your binoculars and get ready! Take care.

Dr. David Aborn

Sightings Update

While the wait continues for popular songbirds such as Orioles, Warblers, and Tanagers to arrive, Journey North citizen scientists are observing other bird species such as Red-Winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Cranes that signify the return of spring.

From Medina, NY: Valeria noted, “Red-winged blackbirds are supposedly not big on bird feeders, but we’ve had one coming to ours for a few years now. Wonder if it’s the same one. So exciting! Spring is on the way!” (02/28/2020)

From Elk Grove, IL: Dawn said she, “Heard small groups of sandhills, but unable to locate them in the sky. Finally saw my first group flying over my house! Welcome back!!!” (03/01/2020)

What bird species are you noticing? If you are seeing Orioles, Barn Swallows, or Red-Winged Blackbirds, you can report your sightings and under the ‘Select Species or Event’ dropdown menu, select ‘Oriole’, ‘Barn Swallow’, or ‘Red-Winged Blackbird’. If you are seeing other songbirds or species not listed, select ‘All Other Signs of Spring’ under the dropdown menu.