Moonwatching... for birds!

Again a thread about birds.
So, it is a fairly well known fact that many migrating birds that breed in North America and winter in the tropics migrate at night. And it is also well known that where I live (the Yucatan peninsula) is vital for many migrating birds that winter here or use the area to rest for a while and continue flying further South. So, recently I heard about taking advantage of this phenomenon this way: taking a decent scope, waiting for full moon, and when it appears, face it with the scope and stare at the moon.
If you’re lucky, and in season, you may see the silhouette of birds crossing against the bright full moon.
I was very surprised to learn that, so I didn’t hesitate to try it that same night (it was in fact one night before full moon). I lacked a telescope, so I used my binoculars instead. I watched the moon for hours by my window, and I saw no birds at all. I even found the famous ‘‘rabbit’’ on the moon, but no birds. So the next day I researched a bit about this peculiar way of birdwatching, and it seems to be more frequently done than I thought, and there are even serious studies and bird counts done moonwatching. So, that was the full moon and I tried again. Nothing. Next night I tried again, and finally saw my first bird!
Maybe I need a telescope? Or is this phenomenon harder to appreciate in urban areas, with too much light? Or I need a specific angle?
After this, although I saw a bird, I was supposed to see many of them, therefore I made this thread to receive any useful tips, comments, experiences, facts, or whatever is related to moonwatching for birds, and of course, helpful tips to try it again the next full moon (in May, I’ll still be on season). If you are knowledgeable about this, please don’t hesitate in adding your experience or your knowledge, I will truly appreciate your contributions.

I have never moonwatched for birds, but since our business involves selling telescopes, I do have a bit of advice. A telescope is probably overkill magnification, and the image in a telescope is flipped upside-down. Also, if using a telescope at night to view the moon for any purpose, you will want a moon filter as the magnification makes the moon too bright to view properly.


here’s something that someone is doing in my area that might be of interest to you:

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So binoculars are better?

I’ve used my spotting scope before and had luck in my area that doesn’t see a ton of birds migrating over.

More important than moon phase I would try to figure out weather conditions that are favorable for migration. The moon is your only source of illumination so birds could literally be flying anywhere else in the sky but you’ll only see them in that small area, so increasing your odds by looking on nights with high numbers of birds flying overhead seems to be a good strategy.

From what I remember the birds were still quite small in my scope as they’re high up in the sky so I would advise a telescope or spotting scope, or if not figure out some way to mount your binoculars to eliminate hand shake as a steady image is likely critical for small subjects that are only in view for less than a second.


Either binoculars or spotting scope, a telescope is simply not made for that purpose–unless you’re okay with a flipped image and things like that. It would probably be like using a sledgehammer to pound in a nail, to use an analogy. @natemarchessault brought up some good points, probably a spotting scope is your best option. Of course if you have a decent budget, thermal imaging monoculars can also be used to watch night migration. These can be used in any area of the sky, black or not, as they pick up heat not light.

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Binoculars will be frustrating. Telescope with a tracking mount is better. Camera on a tracking mount is ideal.

Google found me tons of resources for moonwatching–here’s a selection:

Here’s what it looks like

camera used for documentation, very detailed explanations

and a robot to do it for you


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