Mystery Migration Maps

Big Idea:
Students will use critical thinking skills to draw conclusions about a map created with citizen science data.

Learning Objectives:
1. Students will be able to define “migration.”
2. Students will be able to compare and contrast an animated range map for a migratory versus non-migratory species of bird.
3. Students will be able to describe how citizen science supports the efforts of research and conservation scientists.

Time Required:
45 minute period

Projector and Internet connection to display maps for the class

Getting Ready:
Review the details about the eBird occurrence maps at this site: eBird Occurrence Maps.

Conducting the Activity:
1. Show the students this “mystery” animated map. Ask them what they think the map might be showing. Note all answers at this time and don’t yet give hints or provide correct answers.

2. Show the students a second animated map. Again, ask what they think the map might be showing. If possible, show both maps at the same time (perhaps using the double page option on an interactive white board). Ask:
  • What do you think these maps might be showing?
  • Does our state "light up" in either map?
  • How do the maps differ? (you may wish to draw a Venn Diagram)

3. Reveal the type of data portrayed on these maps: the distribution of a migratory species (Olive-sided Flycatcher) over the course of a year, and the same for a non-migratory bird (Northern Cardinal). Show the students photos (or project a photo) of the cardinal and flycatcher. Tell the students that these two bird species are similar in size and have some overlapping habitat needs. Give students relevant background on the maps as you see fit:

  • eBird excels at using citizen scientists from around the world to collect information about the birds in their area. This online database is available for users to submit and review checklists of birds they have seen. These Spatio-Temporal Exploratory Model, or (STEM) maps are created using eBird's citizen data. The location where each checklist is filled out is combined with remotely-sensed information on habitat, climate, human population, and demographics. Using this information, the model generates approximately 60 variables describing the environment. By relating these environmental variables to observed occurrences of birds in different areas, the models about occurrence of each species make predictions at un-sampled locations and times. Using eBird, scientists can monitor many bird species year-round on a continental scale.

  • While some of these maps match the known distribution of birds very well, some maps show highlighted regions in areas where we know the species does not occur. This tends to happens in regions where eBird data are sparse, such as northern Minnesota, northern Maine, much of Nevada, sparsely-settled regions in the upper Great Plains, Montana. In some other areas (southern Florida, for example), there is not enough habitat information to understand the landscape as it relates to bird occurrence. In all of these cases, we believe that more eBird checklists from these regions will improve the STEM model’s ability to accurately show when and where various bird species occur.

  • These maps show the probability of occurrence of a selected bird species at each particular time and place. For example, a probability of 25% indicates that one out of every four checklists submitted at that time in place would be expected to include that species.

4. Ask:
  • What do these maps tell us?
  • Why do you think that one species migrates long distances and the other does not? (Hint: what do you think Nothern Cardinals eat? What do you think that a flycatcher eats?)
  • Where do you think the flycatcher goes during the winter? (You could challenge students to research this and find out).
  • Why do you think that one species is found more in the eastern United States, and the other is found more in the west?

After discussing these questions, consider further research, and then add to or correct the Venn diagram.

5. Finally, show students at least one new animated map. Try the Wood Thrush for an eastern bird. You can also try the Western Tanager for a western bird. For a bird that is found across the U.S. but shows a different pattern in the migration map, try the American Pipit, a bird that breeds in the Rocky Mountains and the Arctic. Ask students to draw conclusions about this new bird species:
  • What are these birds ranges?
  • Are these birds migrating?
  • What makes you say that it is migratory?
  • How is these birds ranges similar to or different from the two previous species?
  • What do you predict that this bird eats?
  • Can you tell anything about the species habitat preferences from the map?