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How Plastic Can Help Detect Migrating Birds at Night

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Birding is a popular activity and for those with limited knowledge, birding can take place even at night! Of course, you’d need special equipment to ensure you can spot the nocturnal migrators with ease, but this can be done at little to no expense with plastic!

Amongst its many uses, plastic can be a great material for avid birders to locate some of the coolest migrations. Similar to humans (at least back in the day), birds use stars for navigation. They travel at night to avoid the heat, predators, and less turbulent winds. But, with it being dark, naturally it’s harder to spot these birds with the invisible eye.

Ornithologist, Richard Graber and electrical engineer, William Cochrane, however, cracked the code. Together, they created the first systematic recordings of birds migrating at night by attaching a 2-meter-wide upward facing parabolic dish to a microphone in the 1950's. Of course, it was a little more complicated than that, but their discovery led other birding enthusiasts to try to locate these creatures during night travels.

Today, it has been proven that anyone can create this nocturnal tracker with just plastic, a microphone, and a few apps. If you want to try it out, follow the steps below.



  • Raven Lite, acoustic-spectrogram software made available for free by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Audacity, a free audio editor
  • Birdnet, where the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a tool for identifying bird calls

The last step is to follow this set up written by David Schneider, and you’ll have your own bird tracker for nocturnal migrations!

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