Archive for the ‘Migration’ Category

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.

Confusing Fall Warblers

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Confusing Fall Warblers
It’s that time of year again when even the most experienced birder might be puzzled by thecommon_yellowthroat_female_fall fall plumage of warblers.  For new birders, fall warblers can be a real challenge as not only are they much quieter (so it’s often difficult to make the ID with sound), but their molt takes them into more subdued colors. During migration, some birds are still in the process of molting so you can see anything from a near fully (although worn looking) spring look, a patchwork mid-molt pattern or a fully drabbed-out fall/winter pattern.

Fortunately there are free tools to help with these ID’s. One of the best is from Princeton University Press, publishers of Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle’s “The Warbler Guide”.  Their free downloadable pdf of fall warbler plumage is a handy sheet to take with you birding as a reference to the more tricky plumages you might see.  Pack one in your backpack and may very find your ID confidence and bird count are improved this fall!

Your Fall Backyard Tuneup

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Your Fall Backyard Tuneup
In fall, birds’ needs start changing. The bird houses you setjuvenile_cardinal up in spring and which saw a lot of activity are now vacant. Pressure to secure food for hungry mouths in the nest has subsided, and now many birds are bulking up for migration. To create a friendly backyard for migrators and help your year-round residents, here are a few things you can do now.

  • Once all your nestboxes are vacant, clean them out. Remove the nests, and clean the houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts of water — making sure you rinse them thoroughly afterwards, and let them dry completely open in the sun. For more info on cleaning out houses, click here.  You can store them once they are dry, but if you live in a place which gets cold in winter, unless you are putting up roost boxes later, some birds may find the nest boxes to be a needed refuge during the coldest times.
    • Clean your birdfeeders! These need to be cleaned often to keep bacteria from spreading to the birds. You can use the same 1:9 /bleach:water solution as for the houses, then rinse them thoroughly and leave to dry outside. Do not put seed in them until they are totally dry and have had time for the bleach to evaporate.
    • Now fill those feeders! Migrating birds need the energy from fresh seeds.  So, keep your feeders filled and leave them in the same spot for the winter for local residents to easily find food when they need it.
    • If you have native wildflowers, you can collect the seeds now and store them in a cool place in a paper bag over the winter to be planted in the spring. If you prefer, many of them can be scattered in your native plant meadow in late fall to take advantage of  freezing in winter and the opportunity for an early sprouting.
    • Now is a great time to get native trees and some shrubs in place so they can establish before winter. Native trees, plants and shrubs are essential to making your backyard a haven for birds and other wildlife as they attract the right insects and provide the right natural food for wild birds and butterflies in the area. Don’t miss the opportunity to add a few more fruiting shrubs the birds can enjoy all winter.

    Watching Migration Fly By

    Friday, May 27th, 2016
    Watching Migration Fly By
    cornell_migration_map We couldn’t resist this terrific piece of info on migration from  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Using millions of pieces of data from ebird combined with other sources, they put together an animated map of 118 species of birds and their movements including migration, throughout one year. It’s fascinating to see that some of the birds who go the furthest south are the fastest migrators and breed the furthest north. Check out the migratory paths of these birds and watch the show! Want to know which birds are which?  Here’s the key.

    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.

    Where to Watch Hawk Migration

    Monday, September 28th, 2015
    Where to Watch Hawk Migration
    Fall migration means many species of birds are on the coopers_hawk move. September and October are great times to see birds heading south, and this month we have a terrific fall migration hotspot to visit.

    Duluth, Minnesota is located on the western tip of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by area. It serves as a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and provides many outdoor adventures. It is also home to Hawk Ridge, an amazing fall migration hotspot.

    Hawk Ridge is a short drive from downtown Duluth and looks over both the town and Lake Superior. While enjoying the view you can see streams of birds flying by. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory hires professional counters to count hawks, but they also have an interpretive naturalist to help identify birds. Tucked back along the ridge are hawk banding stations, and HRBO’s interpreters bring out captured hawks frequently, allowing visitors to “adopt” hawks and release them.

    There are many passerine migrants at Hawk Ridge, but most people come to see the ridge’s namesake, the vast numbers of raptors that fly over in fall. Scientists believe that as migrating hawks head south they turn when they reach Lake Superior, as many are reluctant to fly across such a large body of water. They follow the shoreline southwest until they can get to Duluth and “round the corner” to continue a more direct route south. Hawk Ridge is perfectly situated for great viewing of these migrants.

    Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and many other hawks are seen in large numbers at Hawk Ridge. You never know what might show up! Volunteers, educators, naturalists, hawk counters and visitors all keep their eyes on the sky to point out the migrants. October is an ideal month for Hawk Ridge’s most infamous migrant, the Northern Goshawk, and owl migration really picks up at that point too. Migration at Hawk Ridge remains active through NovemberVisit Hawk Ridge at night to see banders release wild owls, or adopt one and release it yourself!

    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.

    Don’t Miss The Cranes!

    Monday, March 9th, 2015

    If you want to take part in an ancient avian ritual that takes place every March for about 6 weeks and involves sandhill_crane hundreds of thousands of Sandhill cranes, then get over to the Platte River right now!  For it is there that every March for millennia, Sandhill cranes which have left their over-wintering grounds in the Southwest from Arizona to Texas, stop en masse in the shallow Platte River to fatten up for the next stage of their migration north.  Then, they make the next leg of their journey to their nesting sites in the far north of Canada, Alaska and even Siberia.

    So where is this area that attracts thousands of Sandhill cranes every year?  And why? Nebraska’s Platte River at the Big Bend, which is the part of the Platte River between Grand Island and Lexington, Nebraska is the favored spot.  Originally in the midst of a tallgrass prairie, despite the conversion to cornfields around the river, the birds still find this spot ideal.  Part of the attraction is that the river is wide, calm and shallow, as cranes like spending the night in a shallow river to remain safe from predators.  They also find easy food in the cornfields and in the river and mudflats.

    Check out this spectacular migration and get more details at Nebraska Flyway.

    Hawk Watching This Fall — Watching the Kettle

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

    Hawk Viewing This Fall — Watching the Kettle

    raptors_kettling Hawk watching stations are great places to visit during hawk migration. You can watch Accipiters dive at each other, or see eagles soaring. Many avid hawk watchers love to see Broad-winged Hawk migration because Broad-winged Hawks are the only hawks that are gregarious on migration. That is, they like to migrate together! Many other hawks end up together because they get pushed into the same areas to stay over land during migration, but Broad-winged Hawks actually seek each other out and migrate in huge numbers together. In fact, there are migration points in Texas that have counted around 250,000 Broad-winged Hawks in a single day!

    As Broad-winged Hawks migrate they work together to find rising columns of air that form above warm patches on the earth’s surface. Together they ride these columns to the top, then they glide to the next one. They can form huge groups, with over 1,000 Broad-winged Hawks in a single column. There are so many birds all circling and rising together that they look almost like boiling water, which is why people call these groupings “kettles”.

    Broad-winged Hawk migration can be viewed in many different places. A few hawk migration points known for large numbers of Broad-winged Hawks include  Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, Smith Point in Texas and Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota.

     

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