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DOI: 10.1101/2023.05.22.541336

Nighthawk: acoustic monitoring of nocturnal bird migration in the Americas

B. M.Van Doren A. Farnsworth K. Stone D. M. Osterhaus J. Drucker G. Van Horn
Animal migration is one of nature's most spectacular phenomena, but migratory animals and their journeys are imperiled across the globe. Migratory birds are among the most well-studied animals on Earth, yet relatively little is known about in-flight behavior during nocturnal migration. Because many migrating bird species vocalize during flight, passive acoustic monitoring shows great promise for facilitating widespread monitoring of bird migration. Here, we present Nighthawk, a deep learning model designed to detect and identify the vocalizations of nocturnally migrating birds. We trained Nighthawk on the in-flight vocalizations of migratory birds using a diverse dataset of recordings from across the Americas. Our results demonstrate that Nighthawk performs well as a nocturnal flight call detector and classifier for dozens of avian taxa, both at the species level and for broader taxonomic groups (e.g., orders and families). The model accurately quantified nightly nocturnal migration intensity and species phenology and performed well on data from across North America. Incorporating modest amounts of additional annotated audio (50-120 h) into model training yielded high performance on target datasets from both North and South America. By monitoring the vocalizations of actively migrating birds, Nighthawk provides a detailed window onto nocturnal bird migration that is not presently attainable by other means (e.g., radar or citizen science). Scientists, managers, and practitioners could use acoustic monitoring with Nighthawk for a number of applications, including: monitoring migration passage at wind farms; studying airspace usage during migratory flights; monitoring the changing migrations of species susceptible to climate change; and revealing previously unknown migration routes and behaviors. Overall, this work will empower diverse stakeholders to efficiently monitor migrating birds across the Western Hemisphere and collect data in aid of science and conservation. Nighthawk is freely available at