Birds on Radar

| July 10, 2008 @ 6:55 am | 13 Replies

We had a post roughly 3 weeks ago about the NWS radars picking up large numbers of insects flying at fairly high altitudes. Birds are also occasionally picked up on radar, especially as large numbers of them take off from a nighttime roosting area, often near a body of water. The birds take off around sunrise, and fly away from the site in many directions, forming an expanding ring of radar echo. Even though there are a whole lot fewer birds than raindrops in a typical shower, the birds are much bigger so they show up on radar.

This is happening this morning at many points in Alabama. Here is the radar loop from Birmingham, ending about 625 am.

The birds really got moving around 525 am, about 20 minutes before sunrise. The takeoff just SW of downtown Montgomery is very impressive, probably near a trubutary to the Alabama River. You can see other birds taking off from points along the Tombigbee River, from Livingston and Aliceville to near Columbus, MS, and some along I-59 near exit 97 (between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa).

Other radars also show birds taking off this morning. Still images are below from radars at Birmingham (discussed already), East Alabama (birds along Spring Creek or Buck Creek in SW Georgia), and Hytop, AL (birds near Wheeler Dam).

Fascinating stuff.


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  1. Julie G says:

    Hi Tim,

    Very fascinating radar returns. I’ve never seen that before.

    Re: the southwest Ga. echoes… It seems to be centered right along the Flint River.

  2. Kevin Knupp says:

    Good post Tim!
    Just wanted to add another tidbit to this bird story. We know that the birds taking off from Wheeler in N AL are purple martins. As they fly over the UAH wind profiler, some of them often are flying at altitudes up to 12,000 ft above ground.

  3. WRus says:

    That is cool! Highly interesting.

    Thanks for posting.

  4. Jenny says:

    How interesting! It looks almost like fireworks going off.

  5. Mike Wilhelm says:

    I saw that ring on radar the other day west of Decatur on radar and wondered what it was.

  6. Clay says:

    Do these show up better on days with certain conditions? I don’t recall seeing this before and it is too cool!

  7. Renee' Seals says:

    That is pretty wild and cool stuff.

  8. Lianne says:

    Too bad Alfred Hitchcock didn’t have access to this technology. His movie could’ve been even creepier!

  9. Heather says:

    This is way too cool! I’ve never seen that before! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Sam says:

    That is very cool!

  11. Mike says:

    It’s not bats, or birds. It is something new, and it re-occurres in the same places. Is there really flocks of starlings sleeping in the middle of lake erie?

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