A Good Night To Migrate! Birds On Radar Tonight

10:30pm Monday

It happens each spring; 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 is a great night for them since there is a solid south/southeast wind ahead of the approaching cold front.

They are quite visible on the “VAD” wind display.  That’s the wind profile the past couple of hours from the Portland radar.  The radar is located up around the 2,000′ elevation just west of Scappoose.


Time goes from left to right.  Look at how the targets rise quickly in elevation right after sunset.  Note it says 50 knots!  That’s likely the 20-30 kt southerly wind plus the motion of the birds.   It’s also fascinating that the highest echoes (birds) gradually increase in altitude…those guys are working hard to get up to their “cruising altitude”.  Ducks have been known to fly up around 30-50 mph even under calm conditions.  They can cover 800 miles in one night if they really want to.

This is what it looks like on the “regular” radar screen as the birds take off, from an earlier blog post.   Note they don’t like to fly over water.  The Ocean Shores radar on the Washington coastline shows almost all “bird action” tonight is over land.


One final note, the dual-pol radar is pretty good at detecting the type of “target” we are seeing in the sky.  Note the current display shows almost all “BI”.  That means BIOLOGICAL.  It could be insects, but not in this case.


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 evening relaxation:


Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


45 Responses to A Good Night To Migrate! Birds On Radar Tonight

  1. K says:

    For any of the regulars on the blog- what were the most significant “forecast busts” that you guys have seen?

    • W7ENK says:

      With only a very small handful of exceptions, pretty much any snow forecast made between November 2010 and February 2014. Things got particularly bad in 2012. I think the big dumping in February 2014 kind of broke the string of flops.

      Now, if we could just break that same cycle with the Summer thunderstorm outbreak forecasts, that would be great…

      • K says:

        I was also meaning to ask- what is the highest wind gust you have recorded at your weather station?

  2. Andy says:

    Wind blowing strong here in Albany. Forecast shows light wind tonight? Anyone else notice the wind?

  3. runrain says:

    Fox12 was closer than NWS on forecast Saturday. At least they said dry in the morning.

  4. Sprayandpay says:

    So who has finally hit cabin fever? This spring if you can call it that feels like a tomb. Only 2011 was worse or was it 2010?

    • Jake in Gresham says:

      I concede I have here. I tried to go jogging twice only to throw in the towel because it was just too wet and cold (I rather protect my knees even in my youth).

      So, peeved the weather is more like end of February in terms of rain totals. Looks like it’s going to flip to the other extreme now!

  5. 1.06″ in the past 24 hours, 4.20″ and counting for the month. Quack, quack!

  6. Joshua Downtown PDX says:

    After last weekend, every day has been a rain forecast bust. The models, local meteorologists, and NWS all called for much more rain than what we actually got.

    • Muxpux (Castle Rock) says:

      Here in castle rock, we’ve had just over 2.5” of rain in the last 48 hours.

      A few miles south in Kelso, a little under an inch of rain.

      Roughly 10 miles away as the crow flies…

      • Joshua Downtown PDX says:

        I’m jealous. Only .39” at PDX in the last 48 hours. We need to get all we can before inevitable ridging sets up shop. Looks very dry after early this week for the foreseeable future.

  7. Paul D says:

    Looks like another Saturday forecast bust. Only a trace of rain in Hillsboro on a day that was supposed to be rainy. Today’s forecast says rainy – am I supposed to believe you?

  8. WEATHERDAN says:

    Well the shooty ( censors ) weather continues. Enough already. I am sick and tired about hearing about the skiers. What about the rest of us who want to plant our gardens or play some sports. And I’m sure the farmers would like some dry weather as well. The snow in the mountains is close to average. Well maybe some nice weather later this week. Currently 60 and partly cloudy. No rain today. Very nice. Peace.

  9. Roland Derksen says:

    As of last night, i have 4.10 inches of precipitation here for the month. That’s an average amount for the whole month! If things keep going as they are, it should be possible to see a record for wettest April on record. (current holder is April 1996 with 7.84 in.)

  10. W7ENK says:


    Hey Mark, you ever have days like this?


  11. Ken in Wood Village says:

    The one weather memory I remember very well was either the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004. I lived in Wood Village at the time so I remember it very well. The first storm came in and gave us snow for a couple of hours but then it switched over to sleet and freezing rain (more sleet than freezing rain though). This doesn’t sound like much but it was when it lasted for 4 days in a row. I remember my boss telling me I needed to come into work (which I worked next to the Portland Airport). Luckily I had studded tires on my car because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to get into work. I actually had to drive down to 33rd off Killingsworth to pick up a co-worker then back up to almost 122nd and Airport Way. For those days, the sleet and freezing rain kept building up on the roads. After awhile it started getting difficult to drive to work and back. When Friday came around, I asked my boss if I could take the day off, he said yes and I’m glad because when I woke up on Friday, I was sick 😦

    After that storm I found out I had a leak in my radiator because something hit it during the storm. I put something into my radiator to fix the hole but went to a dealership and traded the car in for a new one…hehe. 🙂

    • K says:

      Yes, I’ve heard a ton about that storm. The airport was closed, correct? On a related not, what would you think is the “storm of the century” for 2000-2018 so far? My vote would go to December 20-21, 2008, or January 16, 2000. Possibly December 11, 2014 or January 1-9, 2004.

      • Ken in Wood Village says:

        Yes, the airport was closed for a couple days. Even though it’s only 18 years into the century…lol…I like to say December 20-21, 2008 was the big storm I would think would go down in history. Only because I lived next to Emanuel Hospital and we had almost 18″ of snow. The most I think I have ever seen in inner most Portland ever. My mom’s place (in Wood Village) had over 2′ of snow. The condo complex needed to higher someone to plow the snow in the parking area so people could get out and go places…hehe.

        • K says:

          Yeah, that is probably the storm of the 2000s so far. January 10-11, 2017 was super cool as well, with that amazing deformation band setting up. There was both thunder snow and 3-4 in per hour snowfall rates. That was a storm to remember for sure!

      • ron says:

        If you live on the North Coast, the worst storm so far this century would absolutely be the Great Coastal Gale which lasted for three days in December, 2007. It was the worst storm I’ve ever experienced–nothing else even comes close.

        • K says:

          I’ve heard some people call it worse than the Columbus Day Storm for those on the coast. Not to mention the terrible flooding in the area as well!

  12. Lee Wilson says:

    I like all weather events, accept for the scorching hot days…and or severely cold days.

    But wind storms and rain storms I like.

    The Pacific Northwest is so far the only area I know that we can have typhoon force winds with out the typhoon .

    We are unique in many ways.
    We have high deserts, tropical forests, step climate, polar regions, and more.

    We can go days with rain and the same with the sunshine.

    The only part I don’t like is loss of life due to flooding, and land slides and the failure of people to use Common sense in wind storms.

  13. K says:

    Does anyone recall a windstorm back in December of 2015? Around the 21st, I believe. It had an unusual east-west track, and brought hefty (45-60) mph winds to our area. Do storms like that occur often?

  14. Lee Wilson says:

    Well, according to the radar I am viewing, it shows snow at the 2k elevations lol.

    According the radar, just after setting up our rain barrel we got nailed good with rain…didn’t fill it as the down poor was to short.but it gave us enough to have a little fun with.

    Connected a shallow well pump, and an intake filter, and connected a hose to the clothes washer.put that rain to some good use lol.

    I know, you folks in Oregon for what ever powers deemed it that you can not harvest rain water really need thier heads examined…

    At any rate, I found out just how little our wash does use in the amount of Water.. It’s not a lot…less than 10 gallons through wash to rinse.

    So we should be able to do 6 loads on a full Barrel.. And on a rainy day, continued stream of water…I should be able to run dishwasher and clothes washer….

    One thing g we will be learning. Is how much water we use for our garden..with an automated water gate or timer.

    We will also be testing different water nozzles for watering with.

    Any who enjoy you bird viewing on radar….or….storm watch…

  15. boydo3 says:

    The movie “Winged Migration” is fascinating! I’ve seen it a couple times. We humans need to do as much as possible to help those critters like saving and restoring habitat, keeping house cats from killing them, and providing bird feeders where food is scarce (like our neighborhoods).

  16. K says:

    All right, for anyone reading, what is your favorite weather event that you experienced? It can be here in the Northwest, or somewhere else. I have two favorites. The windstorms on April 7, 2017 and December 11, 2014 were very exciting indeed. I also loved the January 11, 2017 snowstorm, which people probably remember vividly. I remember looking outside and seeing gusts of wind blow the thick snowflakes in large drifts across the ground. It was so loud it sounded like light rain on our skylight!

    • K says:

      I also loved the February 18, 20, and 21 events this year. The 18th event brought about 2 1/2 inches of snow here where I live. The 20th snowstorm was more substantial, being the strongest of the three. We had at least 2 inches during the day, followed by another five inches in just two or three hours. The third storm brought very intense snowfall as well, with about 3-5 more inches. It was definitely very fun, particularly due to the unexpected nature of the first storm and the cyclogenesis snow rates of the latter two storms.

    • Roland Derksen says:

      I’ve got more than one as well; Right now, two I can think of are as follows: An amazing thunderstorm over my city (Vancouver BC) back in August 1981. We get very few really true thunderstorms, and this one went on for over 3 hours before it was done. The air smelled like ozone for a long time. A more recent weather event was back in Late January 2002. This was a snowfall where similarly to you, the snowflakes were really large in coming down. It almost seemed like something out of a fairy tale.

      • K says:

        Three hours? That’s impressive for a thunderstorm, especially here on the West Coast. I think I also have to include October 25th, 2014 on my list as well, as it is the ONLY windstorm to put us out of power for more than 24 hours. Furthermore, December 8-10 2016 seems very underappreciated, even though the ice accumulations were very impressive, even the lesser amounts on the west side.

    • JohnD says:

      Waaayyy back in the day–when I was a college kid in the mid-valley–the winter of 1968-69 was terrific! Believe it or not, I was born in the winter of 1950–arguably the biggest winter in modern times for Western Oregon.

      • K says:

        I’ve heard of the infamous winter of 68-69. Since I wasn’t alive at the time, the closest thing comparable was the winter of 2008-2009, of course. Unfortunately the blog posts from that time are gone. I wonder if there is any way to see them?

        • Roland Derksen says:

          I recall the winter of 1968-69 as well- as a 10 year old. It got so snowy here , the schoolkids my age were tired of it by late January! I don’t think I’ll see (or hear) THAT again. 🙂

  17. Jake in Gresham says:

    Radar density divided by average bird weight times bird poop dropping rate equals – no windshield unleft re-smeared again & again.

    Lol! Thanks for the update Mark. This is always a cool thing. Minus the above.

  18. Roland Derksen says:

    A beautiful break into blue skies here this afternoon. Fresh SW breeze added in. We had a heavy but brief fall of rain late this morning.

  19. K says:

    Off topic for sure (not about bird migrations) but I was wondering if the 1995 storm or the 1981 storm was the worse one here in the metro area. If anyone has any first hand accounts, it would be so cool!

  20. K says:

    First, I suppose. Woo!

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