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'High intensity' bird migration expected in West Virginia skies

Woman standing near a body of water

Hannah Clipp, doctoral student in wildlife and fisheries resources.

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The time has come for birds to “fly south” for the winter and a “high intensity” migration event will take place in the skies over West Virginia tonight (Mon., Sept. 14). Hannah Clipp, a doctoral student in the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, discusses bird migration and what West Virginians can expect.


“Fall migration is the mass movement of birds that breed in Canada and the United States during the summer to areas that have milder, warmer climates during the winter, including the southern United States, Mexico and Central America, and South America.”

“What sets tonight apart is that scientists project that a notably high number of birds will be migrating (approximately 400 million birds across the United States), with particularly high intensity over West Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic. Mid-September is typically the peak of fall migration season for songbirds. Last night and tonight, we are experiencing the result of a powerful combination of timing (when the most birds are making their way south) and good weather conditions (no rain, winds blowing south) that facilitate migration.”

“Birds migrate to take advantage of resources and improve their survival probability. In the winter, temperatures plunge and insects mostly disappear. Many of the birds that leave Canada and the United States for the winter are insectivores (meaning they primarily eat insects), so they are relocating to where they don't have to expend so much energy keeping warm and where there are plenty of food.”

“Most songbirds migrate at night, starting just after sunset and continuing through the night. Therefore, it is unlikely to actually see the millions of birds in the sky. What you can do is look at the moon when it is full or near full -- you will see the swift silhouettes of birds passing overhead. You can also listen for bird migration. Although you won't hear the typical songs and chirps that you may be used to, songbirds will give "flight calls" while migrating, from which you can even identify species if you listen carefully. Peak migration intensity will probably be around three hours after sunset, but you can hear birds throughout the night.”

“If West Virginians want to see the migrating birds, they can check out local forest patches, such as the WVU Core Arboretum, the next morning for birds that were migrating from further north (Canada, northeastern United States) and stopped in West Virginia to rest and refuel for the day before resuming their journey that night.

“When so many birds are migrating, it can really help to turn off lights at night to avoid attracting birds to urban areas, which contain a lot of hazardous conditions, including buildings into which they can collide.” – Hannah Clipp, doctoral student in wildlife and fisheries resources



CONTACT: Lindsay Willey
Interim Director of Marketing and Communications
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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