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Radar captures millions of birds migrating to North America

Millions of birds are making their way to the U.S. to stick with warmer temps.

TAMPA, Fla. — If you saw a lot of movement overnight on the radar, it wasn't weather — it was birds. 

Yep, you read that right. An overnight migration of more than 160 million birds making their way from South America back to North America was so prominent it appeared on the radar. 

Even in the Tampa Bay region, the annual nocturnal migration put on a show. The timelapse below shows birds actively on the move during the overnight hours.

It turns out millions of birds make their way between North and South America yearly in an effort to stick around the warm summer season.

BirdCast, which tracks bird migration forecast maps, tracks the nocturnal migration three hours after sunset and continues to update its maps every six hours. Current forecasts are produced by Colorado State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

Based on current predictions, BirdCast says around 250 million birds will fill the sky on the night of April 27 and 311 million birds will fill the sky on the night of April 28.

Why are all these birds on the move?

According to Bird Watcher's Digest, March through May is the big spring migration for several species of birds looking to stick with the warm temps.

Migrating birds are leaving their non-breeding/wintering grounds in areas like Central America, South America and the Caribbean and crossing the Gulf of Mexico for the U.S.

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Inc. (CROW) reports the trip is exhausting for the birds as they use the stars and moon to navigate their journey.

CROW suggests calling your nearest wildlife rehab center or its hotline at 239-472-3644 Ext. 222 if you see a bird hit a window or building during its migration.

What species can I see in Florida? 

Several species pay a visit to the Sunshine State in the spring and summer months. But what you will spot depends on where you're located.

"The spring season is a time of great change in Florida," Bird Watcher's Digest writes.

The digest reports gray kingbird, mangrove cuckoo and black-whiskered vireo tend to frequent coastal mangrove areas of the state while Bahama mockingbirds, Key West quail-doves, bananquits and western spindails are mainly found in the Florida Keys. 

You can spot both the upland sandpipers and white-rumped sandpipers in more widespread areas of the state. 

Where can I go bird-watching in Florida?

Florida is considered to be a birding hot spot with 10,414,878 acres of "important bird areas." 

And, according to Audubon, two of the best places to bird-watch are right in our backyard at Myakka River State Park and Oscar Scherer State Park.

Bird enthusiasts can spot anything from waterbirds to songbirds in the vast 37,000 acres of Myakka River State Park.

Here is a list of common bird sightings in the area, per Audubon: 

  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Limpkin
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Crested Caracara
  • Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Other top bird-watching space in Florida include Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge, Disney Wilderness Preserve, Big Cypress National Preserve and Dry Tortugas National Park. You can find a full list here.