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Hundreds of millions of birds will make the Midwest the migration capital of the U.S. this weekend

A Baltimore Oriole
Brian E. Kushner
Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology
A Baltimore Oriole

As many as 100 million or 200 million birds will fly northward along the Central Flyway on Saturday night. Kansas, Missouri and neighboring states lie in the hottest of hotspots.

Rising spring temperatures and weather conditions will likely push hundreds of millions of birds northward this weekend — and bird lovers in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa will get a front-row seat.

A mind-boggling variety of warblers, cuckoos, flycatchers, orioles, buntings and other travelers will largely fly under the cover of night.

But when the sun comes up, it’s time for them to feed and rest, making this a great weekend to grab binoculars or a bird song ID app and head outdoors.

“This is a big one,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a visiting scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “You’re in the right place. The Central Flyway is the thoroughfare for spring migration.”

On Saturday night alone, Bird Cast scientists expect nearly 350 million birds to head north in the U.S. As many as 100 million or 200 million of them will take the Central Flyway over several eastern Great Plains and Midwest states.

Kansas City and surrounding areas are projected to be the hottest of hotspots.

Bird Cast

“We’re at a period of the season when the largest numbers and the greatest diversity of birds are moving,” Farnsworth said. “Through the eastern Great Plains, you may be talking about between 100 and 200 species.”

Warm temperatures and clear skies Saturday night will spur birds on their epic journeys.

The heavy traffic might continue Sunday night, but a rain front could move in by then, putting a damper on the movement.

Farnsworth offers a birdwatching pro-tip: Night-time rainfall during peak migration is a great time to visit green spaces the next morning and check out who stopped to wait out the storm.

Spring bird migration tends to peak in the first half of May for Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

Up From Dust, a new podcast from KCUR Studios, is about the price of trying to shape the world around our needs, as seen from America’s breadbasket: Kansas.

Bird Cast tracks bird movement with radar and combines that information with weather conditions to create day-by-day migration forecasts each fall and spring.

The program is operated by the Cornell Lab, Colorado State University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Illinois.

On any given night during spring migration, some birds are on the move. But specific nights end up seeing incredible numbers on the wing. They’re nudged by weather conditions such as rising temperatures, precipitation patterns and favorable winds.

Scientists urge people to turn off any unnecessary lights at night this time of year. Many millions of birds die each year by slamming into windows, and light pollution during migration season increases the risks.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service

Deciding to turn off your own outdoor lights or to close your blinds and curtains helps — even if other homeowners and businesses in your area don’t follow suit.

“It does make a difference,” Farnsworth said. “Every light off does count.”

Some cities, such as Houston, have mounted major campaigns to turn off unnecessary lights during peak migration season.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is the environment reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

I'm the creator of the environmental podcast Up From Dust. I write about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. My goal is to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.