Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Research

large, long-tailed bird

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is the only scientific institution solely dedicated to studying migratory birds. These species fly thousands of miles every year from summer breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to warm winter homes in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Scientists at SMBC seek to understand their basic biology, what drives population size and how conservationists can use these insights to stop population declines. They are at the forefront of ornithological research, innovating holistic approaches and testing the latest tracking technologies.

SMBC research focuses on complex questions about seasonal interactions, land management, conservation and behavior. Scientists spend months in the field each year in search of answers—from New Hampshire to Jamaica, the Channel Islands to Ecuador. SMBC is proud to collaborate with some of the best researchers in the world; train hundreds of students and postdocs; and freely share as much of their data and publications as possible.



Smithsonian scientists are working with coffee farmers to conserve habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Bird Social Networks

Male wire-tailed manakins form long-lasting, cooperative relationships, and scientists are researching how hormones shape these social networks.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Every spring, black-crowned night herons nest at the Zoo. Scientists are tracking these birds to unravel the mystery of where they spend the winter.

Channel Islands: A Living Laboratory

Scientists are learning more about the adaptations and conservation strategies that help the Channel Island's native birds, like the island scrub-jay, survive.

Climate Change in Hubbard Brook Forest

Scientists are investigating how climate change affects migratory songbirds, such as the black-throated blue warbler and the ovenbird.

Cocoa Agroforestry Library

The Cocoa Agroforestry Library brings together all available scientific literature on cocoa agroforestry to support sustainable cocoa implementation and research.

Gray Catbirds

Researchers are studying the gray catbird to better understand how urban and suburban landscapes impact migratory birds.

Kirtland's Warbler

Smithsonian scientists study the Kirtland's warbler, one of North America's rarest songbirds, to better understand and protect the species.

Painted Bunting

Scientists are tracking painted buntings to learn more about their migration routes and advance conservation efforts.

Protecting Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes

In 2022, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will begin a new research project to help protect endangered piping plovers from predation by merlins.

R Package MigConnectivity

Migratory connectivity describes how populations overlap throughout the annual cycle. For birds, this can include phases of breeding, migrating and overwintering.

South American Birds

Ornithologists study the migration patterns of bare-throated bellbirds and snail kites, two birds that spend most of their lives in the tropics.

Stopover Habitat Along the Gulf of Mexico

Habitats along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico provide critical resources for North America's migratory birds.

Tracking and Migratory Connectivity

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists use novel technologies to track birds year-round throughout their annual cycle.

Urban Ecology

Researchers study Carolina chickadees in urban and suburban yards to understand how nonnative plants affect birds and the insects they eat.

Winter Ecology in Jamaica

Every winter, Smithsonian scientists head to Jamaica to see how North America's migratory birds fare during their nonbreeding season.

Wood Thrush

The wood thrush, a bird known for its flute-like song, was once common throughout North American forests. Scientists want to understand why its population is declining.

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Changing Landscapes Initiative

Smithsonian scientists work alongside community members in Northwestern Virginia to evaluate the impacts of land-use change on wildlife, ecosystem services and community health.

Coral Biobank Alliance

Smithsonian scientists are part of the Coral Biobank Alliance, a global network of coral experts preserving corals for restoration and research.

Coral Species Cryopreserved with Global Collaborators​

View a list of the coral species that have been cryopreserved using a technique developed by Smithsonian scientists.

Wildebeest Conservation

Conservation Ecology Center scientists are tracking the movements of white-bearded wildebeest to understand how changes across the landscape impact the species.

Protecting Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes

In 2022, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will begin a new research project to help protect endangered piping plovers from predation by merlins.

Swift Fox Recovery

Smithsonian scientists, in collaboration with the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, are embarking on a five-year swift fox reintroduction project to restore swift foxes to tribal lands and to help reestablish connectivity between disjointed swift fox populations.

Conserving the World’s Largest Working Wetland

Conservation Ecology Center researchers are collaborating with institutions in Brazil and other Smithsonian colleagues to support sustainable cattle ranching in the Pantanal wetland.