Archive for the ‘Bird Migration Challenges’ Category

Who’s Migrating Now?

Sunday, August 6th, 2017
Who’s Migrating in Summer? 
piping_plovers_juveline_and_aduylt
Piping Plovers,
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
Spring and Fall migration get all the press.  After all, songbirds like warblers or goldfinches traveling in spring look spectacular and move in large numbers. And they can often be seen in our own backyards. But migration continues throughout the year, with different species of birds migrating at different times.  In summer, many shorebirds start their migrations south – some having left their overwintering grounds in February.  Usually the birds who were unsuccessful breeders that year leave early and take their time going back south.  Since shorebirds don’t move in family groups, generally the adults which successfully raised chicks will leave mid-summer and the chicks will stay on their own for a couple of additional weeks to get stronger in their flight skills.

 

Shorebird migration can often be shockingly arduous, with some shorebirds traveling from the southern portion of South America to above the arctic circle to breed, and then back again for overwintering. Some songbirds make this kind of trek, but shorebirds who nest in the far north have some fairly unbelievable non-stop migration statistics.  For example, Bar-tailed Godwits are believed to have the longest non-stop migration – traveling 6500 miles from Alaska to New Zealand – yes that is non-stop! And they are not the only shorebirds who fly for days at a time without stopping. Migration can be very tough and shorebirds who migrate south in the summer have the advantage of being able to take their time getting back to where they will spend the winter — which may be a welcome relief after a hectic season raising a family on a busy beach.

Purple Martins Are Coming Your Way!

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Purple Martins are Coming – Be Ready!

purple_martins_house
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Purple Martins are on their way north and looking for nesting sites. With their enchanting song and effective insect removal efforts – especially when there are chicks in the summer – these birds are a delight to have around. And if you want to help birds, Purple Martins are a needy species.  These social birds nest in communities, and their natural nesting sites are in dead-wood tree and cacti cavities.  But these sites are becoming very difficult to find and now east of the Rockies, they are forced to rely entirely on human-provided housing.  Once the first birds arrive at their nesting sites, they will begin searching for the right spot, or return to last year’s good one, and begin nest building within a few weeks of arrival.

With Purple Martins, timing is everything.  It’s essential to put the house or gourds up just after the scouts arrive as they are looking for nesting sites.  Any earlier, and sparrows will move in.  Too late, and the martins will have moved on.

Purple Martins like the safety that human activity brings, so you can situate your martin house not too far from your own home, with about a 30 foot radius of open area at the base of the house so the birds can see predators easily.  To get a better sense of timing, checkout the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study.  You can even see where Purple Martins have been reported near you or on their way.
For any info you might want about these fast flying insectivores, visit Purplemartin.org where you can find tips on hosting a successful Purple Martin colony.

Eating Like a Bird

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Eating Like a Bird

Birds have much different eating habits than humans – especially during migration when they really need to add calories to deal with the stress and energy requirements of long hours of flying. You may have been chided by your hummingbird_feeding mother at one point that you ate like a bird, but if you really did, you would probably weigh a lot more than you do now! In fact, birds are infamous for eating the equivalent of what is measured in percentages of their body weight each day. Some birds, like active Chickadees might eat up to 35% of their weight daily.  An extreme example is Hummingbirds,who can eat 100% of their body weight every day in sugar-water nectar plus a couple of thousand insects. When they are migrating they can double their weight.  They need to do this as under normal circumstances hummingbirds live very much on the edge and some species feed every 15 minutes – something not terribly practical during migration or flying over open water.

Migration adds stress and uncertainly to the equation, and you will notice a difference in their feeding habits when songbirds are migrating. Since they fly at night, both in late afternoon before they take off, and early morning as they land, you can find them frantically feeding. Sometimes they are so involved in getting food that they barely will notice your presence, so there can be great viewing and photographic opportunities. These little songbirds have to do their night marathon flight and they need to be prepared to fly nonstop until dawn — so at these times, insects in flight and under leaves, beware!

Birds like endangered Red Knots, also beef up before taking off – especially the Red Knots who fly non-stop for over 8 days between Canada and South America on their route south. They are so fat they can barely take off. But when they finally land over a week later they are, not surprisingly, exhausted and starving.
Even when they are not migrating, birds really do eat a lot when compared with humans.  So when you are told you eat like a bird, you can quietly know to yourself, that probably isn’t really the case at all.

Ospreys on the Move

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
Ospreys on the Move!
We promise songbirds will start migrating through soon. Until ospreytrax_mapthen, there is still a lot of raptor activity to keep you busy! Eagles and many hawks are already nesting, but Osprey, who cannot tolerate cold weather, are on the move right now. Having overwintered in South America and Cuba, they are feeling the need to get back north. Learn more about Osprey and follow the migration in real time of birds sporting transmitters at Ospreytrax. You can see their migration in spring and fall and how far they venture from their home sites during the nesting season. It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to track your favorite birds.…and you will have favorites by the end of the first season!

The Mystery of the Migration Route

Monday, September 28th, 2015

The Mystery of the Migration Route

Do birds fly the same route on migration in spring and fall? Would it surprise you that many of them don’t? In fact, scientists are finding out that many birds, especially in spring, follow a path of new plant growth — what is migrating_cormorantscalled a “green wave” of migration — where birds follow patches of insects and food going north. In fall, especially in the western US, they take a more direct route south, staying at higher elevations, creating a round trip route that looks like a loop for their migration as opposed to a straight line used both directions.  For birds in the western US, it might seem to us to be a less enticing route, but if the choice is flight over desert, or flight over wilted foliage with insects in it, the choice seems fairly straight forward.

This “looped migration” offers conservationists the opportunity to fine tune their efforts to benefit birds on migration by building, preserving and reinforcing stop-over habitats where they are needed.

The information which went into this study has been made possible by birders like you who post sightings on ebird, which helps create a database of bird sightings over time.  See more on this interesting discovery at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Making That First Migration

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Making That First Migration

Young birds are leaving the nest, and many of them are getting ready for their first trip south. Migration is a hard and risky business for any bird, but the first marathon voyage for many species of birds takes place shortly after they have fledged. How do they do it?

rose_breasted_grosbeak_juvenile

Songbirds such as American Robins and this young Rose-breasted Grosbeak are born nearly naked and completely helpless. They remain in the nest while their parents work overtime to provide protein-rich insects and other food for their babies. When the chicks fledge, they have strong instincts that will guide them to their wintering grounds. They don’t need to follow their parents, although they often fly together on their first migration.

Crane chicks are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial – meaning they are ready to go right away. They leave the nest and bravely follow their parents across marshes, fields and river banks, learning everything from them – from how to find food and avoid predators, to when and to where they are supposed to migrate. Unlike most birds that migrate, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes don’t instinctively know where to go on migration, and if they are not shown the way, captive bred birds remain where they were born.

Shorebirds are an extreme example of instinctive behavior. Similar to cranes, shorebirds are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial. But, unlike cranes, they get very little help from their parents. After fledging, young shorebirds must fend entirely for themselves, and their parents usually leave for migration before their chicks. First-year shorebirds make incredibly long, sometimes multi-day, flights entirely on their own or with a few other first-year birds – none of whom have flown the route previously.

World Osprey Week: Tracking Osprey Migration

Monday, March 9th, 2015

One of our favorite birds of prey is about to start their osprey_flyingmigratory trek north and you can watch it happen! Breeding Osprey are found not just in the US but also in  Europe. Scientists have put GPS trackers on some of these birds making it possible to follow their migration patterns, and what a show it is! Celebrate World Osprey Week (March 23-29) by following some of these birds on their spring migration– and your classroom can participate.

In the UK, the Rutland Ospreys have a program that enables classes around the world to follow the spring migration of Osprey to both the UK and US. But any of us can check out their interactive map to see where the birds are in real time on their way north through the Americas and from Africa to Europe. If you want an even bigger experience, have your child’s classroom sign up to participate in World Osprey Week March 23-29, and take advantage of their free program to follow these remarkable birds on their long migration north this spring!

You can also track real time migration for four Osprey in the US with The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. If any of these birds nest in your area, you will be sure to know ahead of time when they are going to arrive! And you can compare your local Ospreys’ migration dates with the ones that are being tracked.

Where To See Birds: California’s Central Valley

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

WHERE TO SEE BIRDS: California’s Central Valley

The Central Valley of California is a great spot for overwintering waterfowl.  It has also been making the

snow_geese_central_valley_ca_gary_zahm_usfws
Snow Geese – Gary Zahm, USFWS

news a lot lately as the drought there has reached epic proportions, and it’s not just farmers who are affected. About 60 percent of the waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway use California’s Central Valley for wintering habitat making this area an extremely important bird habitat — especially for wintering ducks and geese.  Its 13 million acres once contained a rich wetland complex covering 4 million acres.  But with intense agriculture and human development only 205,000 acres of highly managed wetlands remain.

As global climate patterns continue to predict more droughts, the future of wetlands in the Central Valley is uncertain. Agriculture claims about 80 percent of the water use in the region, and as urbanization continues, demand for that water increases. But it’s not all bad news! In recent years rice farmers have worked with conservationists to manage rice fields for birds. It’s a practice called “Bird Friendly Agriculture”, whereby farmers are compensated for providing habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds during critical times of year when the farmers aren’t using their fields for agriculture anyway.

Visit California’s Central Valley in the wintertime to see incredible flocks of  Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Canada Geese,  Mallards, Canvasbacks, Dunlin,  Sandhill Cranes and so much more! We recommend visiting a National Wildlife Refuge, such as Merced National Wildlife Refuge in Merced, California, or Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Willows, California. After you enjoy the show, be sure to support the many organizations that protect wildlife in California’s Central Valley. You can learn more about them by visiting the  Central Valley Joint Venture website.

Snowy Owls and Airports

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
IN THE NEWS:  Snowy Owls and Airports

snowy_owl_flying Snowy owls are coming into the US in record numbers this year, and are being seen as far south as South Carolina! If you enjoyed reading about the current irruption of Snowy owls last month in our newsletter, you might be interested in this news story.

Snowy owls like hunting for food in open areas, like airfields, and birds and jet aircraft don’t mix well.  If you saw the news story in early December about the Snowy owls at JFK airport, you may recall that the Port Authority who manages the airport, decided to kill 5 Snowy owls that were near the field, much as they do Canada geese and other birds who pose a potential safety hazard to aircraft.

Birdwatchers who had come long distances to see the owls were shocked at this decision, as Snowy owls at other airports, such as Boston’s Logan airport, are trapped and released.  Additionally, the biggest safety issue involves birds in large flocks that are sucked into jet engines and can more readily cause an accident.  Snowy owls are solitary and pose far less of a threat than do flocking birds, so this decision to shoot the owls near JFK was perceived as a bit extreme.

With the help of many NGO’s including NY Audubon and Friends of Animals, as well as many New Yorkers who contacted the Port Authority protesting this inhumane treatment, the Port Authority very quickly agreed to stop shooting the owls and provide for a non-lethal way of getting them off the field. JFK will now be safe from owl strikes and it will be done humanely.  Thanks to everyone who made their feelings about this known to the authorities.  New Yorkers don’t want owls killed!

Gale Force Migration

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Gale Force Migration

Bird migration is heavily linked to weather patterns and systems as they move across the country.  In the fall, fast

migrating_cormorants
Cormorants migrating

moving northwest winds, especially ahead of a front, help speed migrating birds ahead of tempestuous weather.  But fall migration coincides with another huge event in North America —  hurricane season — and this seems to be an especially big challenge for migrating birds.  As people prepare and hunker down for these major storms that sweep the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast, some birds may have already been forewarned by their own natural instincts.  Feeling the shifts in barometric pressure lets birds know that a storm is brewing.  But it doesn’t mean they are out of harm’s way.

With this advanced warning, birds have a few options.  They can try to outpace the storm by flying ahead of the outermost winds of the hurricane.  Birds tend to move after a low-pressure system has passed, so if the storm passes to the east, favorable northwest winds will allow the birds to take off in time.  Some birds, especially pelagic species may choose to enter the storm and find the calm eye or center of the storm.  This may be a dangerous decision as birds could be forced to fly hundreds of miles without being able to land.

Some birds get the natural signal too late, and are caught in

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Fallout at Machias Sea Island Lighthouse

winds that come up quickly.  In these instances, they will look for any place to put down.  If they are over water —  to avoid drowning — tankers, oil rigs and anything floating serves as a safer haven than battling gale force winds which would surely be a losing battle.  Seamen on the Gulf during hurricanes have tales of fallouts of sometimes hundreds of songbirds landing on their boats. And lighthouse keepers off the coast find they are often the only port in a storm, like this image above from the Machias Seal Island Lighthouse, Gulf of Maine.


But, many birds decide to stay put during these storms and often we wonder what exactly they do in those high winds and drenching downpours.  They don’t have a lot of choices, so they hunker down, cling to perches and bide their time as best they with the rest of us.  Although little energy is spent perching, birds still have to keep their bodies warm and their bellies full.  There are undoubtedly high mortality rates amongst birds during hurricanes who get blown out to sea or are drenched and unable to keep their body warm enough to survive.

The after effects of the storm can cause serious problems for birds as well.  Habitat changes are a major problem birds face after the storm has passed.  Most birds will be heading south during hurricane season, but the habitat they may come back to in the spring could be changed forever.  Sometimes habitat change is can be good for a particular species, but bad for another.

After weathering the storm, birds may find themselves displaced in obscure places. It may take them a few hours to red_billed_tropicbird get oriented, but they quickly try to make their way back to where they came from.  In 2011 Hurricane Irene swept up the eastern seaboard and left white-tailed tropicbirds, which are typically only seen in the Caribbean, cruising the New York and New Jersey coastlines.  Birders across the country are always interested to see what birds may be blown in after a hurricane.  If you do find these vagrants, respect what the bird has had to go through to get where it is, and don’t cause the bird additional stress.

Birds small and large find ways to weather these storms.  A radio-tagged whimbrel was tracked migrating right through Hurricane Irene as the bird made its way from Canada to Brazil on its annual migration.  Birds are resilient creatures and continue to impress researchers with new discoveries on a frequent basis.  Hurricanes hit hard and when they do we can only hope that most of the birds have left ahead of the storm.

 

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