Bird Migration On Radar Tonight

10pm Thursday…

It happens once a year; the huge nocturnal (night) migration of ducks, geese, swallows and all those other birds from warmer regions on our planet to northern/cooler areas.  Think about this; there are probably birds flying right over your home tonight that will end up spending the warm season in the Yukon or even near the Arctic Ocean!  Oh, and they may have spent the winter in Mexico or Costa Rica too.  That part doesn’t sound too bad does it?


Because birds are large compared to precipitation (rain/hail/snow) they show up quite well on radar and it doesn’t take that many to trigger an “echo” on the radar screen.  Of course you might be wondering like me why we don’t see birds on the radar screen all through the warm season?  We usually don’t because those birds don’t have any reason to move high up into radar range (more than a thousand feet or so).  But when migrating they go high to avoid low level wind fields, instability, and denser surface air.

Tonight they are quite visible on the “VAD” wind display.  Check out the current wind field over us, from the Troutdale Wind Profiler:


The area in yellow is the latest info (9pm) showing light west wind (less than 10mph) from the surface up to around 3,000′.  Then a light north or northwest wind from there up to 8,000′.

Now take a look at the wind profile from the Portland radar.  The radar is located up around the 2,000′ elevation just west of Scappoose.


Time goes from left to right.  The first column labelled “0228” means 2:28z or 7:28pm.  The last column is then 9:05pm.  Until about 30 minutes after sunset you see that light west wind the Troutdale profiler shows.  Then look at the 8-9pm hour…the echoes turn to straight southerly “wind” at 15-25 kts.  That’s all bird action.  It’s also fascinating that the highest echoes (birds) gradually increase in altitude…those guys are working hard to get up to their “crusing altitude”.  Ducks have been known to fly up around 30-50 mph!

This is what it looks like on the “regular” radar screen as the birds take off, from an earlier blog post:

By the way, there is a movie called WINGED MIGRATION (a documentary) produced about 10 years ago using hand-raised birds. They follow the birds (usually geese) while flying and migrating using some sort of very light aircraft. Or, actually I suppose the birds follow the aircraft since they imprinted on humans at hatching.  That means they think humans are part of their family. Now, believe me, this is no “party movie”, actually it’s REALLY slow, but great visuals for little kids to watch. Filming was done all over the planet. Here’s a clip for a little mid-day relaxation:


Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


37 Responses to Bird Migration On Radar Tonight

  1. W7ENK says:

    This is always such a fascinating subject! I’d imagine they’re primarily Canada geese?

    Now, if those blasted things would just stay in Canada…

  2. Roger Renfro says:

    Is the VAD wind profile available to the public? I can’t seem to find it on the NOAA, ESRL or NWS sites.

  3. Paul D says:

    What is that noise on my roof!?! 🙂

    • It’s got to be rain! I started hearing it here after 9:30 pm. Not a lot, though. I expect on Thursday I may see a high of 76F. So the heat is coming …

  4. High Desert Mat says:

    About 5 days out and can’t wait to see who’s right this early in the upcoming warmer months. Mark has 84 for Thursday, Koin has 80, and Kgw has 79. Let’s see if this is the start of a Mark warm bias kind of summer. Lets all “Mark” it down and see if Jesse is right with the older wiser warmer Mark. No worries Mark, you’re the best regardless.

  5. schmit44 says:

    Currently downloading Winged Migration (2001)

  6. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    Yesterday felt like a summer morning with all of the sunshine. Today is no different with the low clouds in place.

    76 yesterday.

  7. cgavic says:

    April 1, 2016 sandy, OR
    High of 77°

  8. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    Who remembers the spring of 2009? We didn’t even break 60 degrees until April 4th.

    This year we’ve hit 60 even at my Battle Ground station 19 times already this year. And we’ve hit 70 five times…

  9. JohnD says:

    Simply fascinating! Thanks Mark. Also recalling the docu-movie “Winged Migration”. Such a great film!

  10. steve says:

    Who cares about these birds. Will it be warm and sunny is what we care about Markie

    • Paul D says:

      When will it cool off to normal temperatures is what I care about. These summer temperatures in spring suck.

    • Go follow the 7 day forecast Steve. The blog is about more than whoever “we” is wants. The bird migration is something that’s discussed yearly, and some of use happen to find it intriguing.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      I care about the birds, wanna eat em.

  11. 65 for a high here today. And it looks like the weekend won’t be showery. Sure, it’s the Spring Tease and won’t last, but it’s nice while it does last.

  12. runrain says:

    Whoa! 84 deg next Wed???

  13. Slightly cooler here yesterday as well- a maximum of 72F. I should mention a sign of spring (or perhaps more of summer, actually) is the sound of ice cream trunks driving by. I’ve heard them playing their tunes here the past couple of days! 🙂

  14. Boydo3 N. Albany says:

    Thanks for posting this. I tried (feebly) to make this observation last night but I ain’t too good at it! It really is amazing and the fact that radar picks it up.
    The video you referred to is a night time put-you-to-sleep movie. But if it’s the same documentary I think it is, there is a scene when some geese land on the ship out in the sea. That’s a bit disturbing. Exhausted birds finding the only place land…

  15. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    It’s nice to have yet another sign of spring.

    It was actually cooler today in Battle Ground. A high of 74.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      For the record, my ducks didn’t fly anywhere…too fat and the food is free at home 🙂

    • A continued cool down from Wednesday; Today’s high was 69F. I noticed the wind has changed from NW (a warm dry wind here in summer) to SE which often means an inflow of marine air. The airport temperature has hardly changed in comparison. Today’s high there was 61F.

    • W7ENK says:

      Ronald, that’s backwards from our pattern down this way. NW brings us cool and showery, SE brings hot and dry — until monsoonal moisture gets swept in from the Desert SW, which then brings hot, muggy and thunderstorms to at least the Cascades and Eastside.

      Speaking of which, I’m really hoping this is going to be a great year for thunderstorms in the Valley and PDX Metro. It’s been way too long since we (in PDX, at least) have had a really good round of nocturnal thunderstorms… a 2008 redux would be nice!
      We got ’em in May,
      we got ’em in June,
      we got ’em in July,
      we got ’em in August… it was awesome!

      There was one night in particular where we had several storms pass directly overhead all night long, and the lightning was pretty frequent. The next flash would come before the previous roll of thunder had faded away, it really reminded me of summer in Central Minnesota.

      This one!

      Maybe this’ll be the year?

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