Archive for the ‘Bird Migration Challenges’ Category

What Do Birds Do In a Hurricane?

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The iconic image and story of Harvey, the terrified juvenile Coopers Hawk who desperately fled the onslaught
Harvey_coopers_hawk_hurrican
Harvey, the Coopers Hawk
Photo Credit: William Bruso

of hurricane Harvey by landing on the passenger seat of a Houston taxi cab was a welcome story of hope. Harvey was rescued by the driver, taken to Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and was later released.  His story had a happy ending, but most birds caught in a hurricane are not so fortunate.

 

Fall migration and hurricane season are two extreme events which occur simultaneously.  And when hurricanes happen, they have the potential for catastrophic effects on birds. When hurricanes are imminent, some birds and wildlife can sense the impending event through changes in barometric pressure or other cues they can read. Sometimes they have time and opportunity to flee. But their options to remain safe from a rapidly moving overwhelming weather event are often desperate, fairly limited and not always successful.

 

Add to this millions of birds on migration during this time – birds who are already pushing themselves to the limit of endurance during this annual trek to their overwintering grounds.   Having to deal with battering hurricane force winds, no food or water for long periods of time, finding shelter or possibly being swept up and relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles from where you were, can be devastating. For an endangered species living where the hurricane makes landfall or which relies on a specific habitat which is destroyed in the hurricane, these storms can be an extinction event.

 

There are amazing stories about some birds like Whimbrels, which have flown directly into and through the eye of a hurricane on more than one occasion and survived.  Migrating birds can also maneuver themselves to use the winds on the edge of the hurricane as a tail wind to speed their transit, but this is a dangerous and risky business. There are also many sad accounts, like an entire flock of migrating Chimney Swifts caught in the eye of the hurricane, the survivors relocated to another continent.

 

To find out more about hurricanes and birds, check out this article from Forbes science blogger GrrlScientist which gives as excellent description of what birds face when confronted with a hurricane, what they do and what can happen.

Great Views of Shorebirds Now

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

Birds at the beach never cease to amaze.

Not only are

marbled_godwit+oystercatchers
Marbled Godwit and American Oystercatchers Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

they capable of migrating extremely long distances non-stop (some manage several days at a time and thousands of miles over open water), there are different species on the move year round.  Fall is a great time of year to go to less trafficked beach areas and check out the shorebirds there. Oystercatchers, terns, skimmers, all kinds of sandpipers and plovers are either massing up to take off for the trip south, or have already found their overwintering grounds.  It’s the right time to see lots of different species in large numbers.

At a relatively quiet nearby beach in NJ, oystercatcher numbers have increased from maybe a dozen in August to about 80 in September.  There will be over 100 of them before they take off in October or November. Sanderlings are up to  around 500 now, but will number in the thousands in a few weeks. Caspian Terns are in a flock of nearly 60 now. There are hangers-on like the first-year Piping Plover who is spending time with the Sanderlings and the Marbled Godwit who is hanging out with the flock of Oystercatchers. There is safety in numbers, and lone birds take advantage of larger flocks which will tolerate them.

The Godwit was so exhausted on his first day after landing he seemed to use the oystercatchers as sentinels to let him know when there was danger while he was sleeping. Every time he was awakened by their calls or movements, first he looked straight up for raptors.  Then a quick look around and then, if it was just a false alarm, immediately back to sleep. But when the flock flew off, he went with them, having to restrain his clearly much stronger, more precise and faster flight so as not to outfly the beautiful but clumsy oystercatchers.

 

Although some shorebirds will tough it out over the winter in the northeast or even New England, most will opt to go to South America when it gets cold. But before they leave, some species will gather in large flocks.  If you want to get great views of masses of shorebirds, now is a good time to do it. They won’t be in breeding plumage, but they are easily seen foraging to build up their stamina for migration and are joined by a number of juveniles not yet strong enough to make the long flight. Consider taking an off-season trip to a less-traveled beach and see what large flocks and unusual shorebirds you can find.

 

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.

 

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