The answer depends a lot on where you live, of course. But several common species, such as Red-winged Blackbirds, Tree Swallows, and Killdeer, are among the first returning migrants across much of North America. You can also use data from eBird to find out when to expect birds to return to your location, and our BirdCast project for weekly forecasts during migration season predicting which species will be on the move.
Naturally, the timing of migration depends a lot on how far south or north you are—but February and early March usually bring the first returning birds. Some of the earliest spring migrants are Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, American Robin (bear in mind that plenty of American Robins actually stick around all year long), Tree Swallow, and, in the East, Eastern Phoebe. Many species of blackbirds are also on the move in February, in addition to Red-winged Blackbirds, including Common Grackles and Rusty Blackbirds (in the East) and Brewer’s Blackbirds (in the West).
A great way to get a handle on when different species might be arriving in your area is by using the Bar Charts feature in eBird. By selecting your state and/or county, you can create a list of birds in your area that includes information about when they arrive and depart the region, as well as how often they are reported in any given week of the year. You can also use eBird’s new Locations feature to see the most recent reports for a given county or state.
Another way to keep up with migratory bird movement is by visiting BirdCast. Birdcast uses radar to track migration and has a whole suite of migration tools that let you follow the action. During spring and fall migration (March 1 to June 15 in spring and August 1 to November 15 in fall), Birdcast forecasts nightly movements of birds in the contiguous United States, and has real-time live migration maps so you can see where birds are flying. On their Migration Dashboard you can enter your location, and Birdcast gives you all the details on migration in your area—you can follow migration live, get a summary of nightly migration patterns, and even learn what species are expected to be on the move near you.
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