Short Primer on Fall Migration

Every year I forget that late summer birding is composed of long periods of quiet interrupted by short periods of activity. Like this past weekend for example when the birds weren’t singing much, even in the early morning,  Then it dawned on me during Fall Migration the best time to bird is the day before and a couple of days after a cold front. And that doesn’t even guarantee birds will be active since last Saturday was the day after a front passed through.

Weather Map 080616
A passing cold front like last Saturday still doesn’t guarantee the birds will be out in numbers.

The bad thing about Fall cold fronts as opposed to ones in Spring is they don’t come through on a regular basis. Sometimes they will causally drift through every 5-6 days. Other times longer. And the birding can be slow in-between. So a short primer on fall migration.

Very Short Primer on Fall Migration

  1. Shorebirds move the day or two before cold fronts.

  2. Passerines move the day or two after cold fronts.

That’s it in a nutshell.

No use in making it any more complicated. Of course birds move all the time and can be seen on any day.

In 2012 I birded every day in August and on the two days around the passing of the 5 cold fronts I saw 95% of the birds for the month. So in essence I could have birded the best 10 days and would have seen almost all the birds that month.


For weather reference I  use a couple of sources to check the passing of fronts.

First I check the 1-3 and 3-7 day forecast maps at NOAA.

1-3 day forecast

3-7 day forecast

Forecast 081516 Short Primer
Doesn’t look like we have another front moving though until next Monday, 8/15.

Next I read the discussion on the local National Weather Service weather page.

Forecast Discusion
I’ve highlighted the Forecast Discussion in yellow on the lower right.
Local Forecast
I read the entire discussion and it’s usually accurate on the passing of fronts.

And that’s it. Now I wait for the next front.

Of course even if there isn’t a front passing you’ll see me out birding!

2 Replies to “Short Primer on Fall Migration”

    1. You’re welcome. Like anything you can over think migration. Especially in the fall. There always seem to birds in the spring, fronts passing or not. But not so much in the fall. So I might as well play the odds for the best days.

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