Posts Tagged ‘Migration’

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.

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.

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!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Looking For Hawks on Migration
Watching hawks migrate can be done anywhere along their migration route. There are well known hotspots where hawks can be seen in great numbers on migration. But you don’t need to travel far to see hawks on the move.  If you are on a flyway, you can look up to see them wafting south on currents, or using the front end of a cold front for a push of speed.  Food is also on their minds and some of the best views of hawks migrating are when they come down out of the heights to hunt.

Check out communications towers for Peregrine Falcons.  They often use the towers both for a vantage point and also peregrine_tower because they can position themselves at the same height as migrating songbirds.  They will look like a tiny dark speck as they sit perched (see the bird perched in the middle of the grid?)…just waiting for a flock of small shorebirds to fly by during the day or songbirds at dusk or dawn.

Peregrines can also be seen perched on beaches – sometimes on fences or posts, or even just sitting on the sand.  Small shorebirds like Sanderlings or Wilson’s Plovers are their target here, and you can watch them herd the flock into a tight ball and then break one bird free hoping to nab it for a meal.

I was watching a Coopers Hawk the other day worrying a flock of starlings into a tight ball, which he then flew through.  He was unsuccessful in the hunt, which was a surprise, but then again, even the best hunters don’t always score.

Look for migrating raptors in the sky of course, but also wherever there might be easy prey.  Sometimes you can get even better views of them hunting than riding the winds above.

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.

FAMILY PROJECT: Help Long Distance Migrators

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Birds that migrate long distances need your help!

There are fun and easy things anyone can do and they can make a big difference to wildlife. If you like taking a stand for the right thing – animals like the Red knot and horseshoe crabs need you to stand up for them to keep them from disappearing.  Take Mike Hudson in Maryland, for example.  At 14 years old, he and some friends started a letter writing campaign to the US Fish and Wildlife Service asking the Red knot be listed as an endangered species.  You can visit his website Friends of the Red Knot to see what he is doing.  For his effort he has gained a great reputation and he now assists researchers gathering data on these birds – something he really loves to do. Are you good at social media, maybe Facebook or Twitter?  Start your own social media campaign and get your friends involved to contact lawmakers and let them know how important it is to not harvest horseshoe crabs, and to get Red knots federally listed as endangered.  Birds like the Red knot need your help and it’s fun to do!

If you live near any grassland or prairie area – they used to exist all across the US – take a look to see if there is anyone restoring the original prairie, like Citizens for Conservation in Illinois.  There is a lot of this going on and prairie restoration can be a lot of fun to do!  You work with a group of people to get rid of the bad invasive plants and put in the native ones, plant seeds and sometimes create ponds and marshes.  Grasslands can start recovering fairly quickly and the work you do helps birds and animals in a very big way by giving them more areas to nest and use as stopovers during migration.  It’s a great family project that will leave you incredibly satisfied at the end of the day.

Please let us know what you are doing to help migrating birds.  We would love to let our readers know!

 

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