It certainly is getting to feel that way. More snow this week, six inches on Sunday, and the winter is just starting to relent into spring. Spring migration is underway for birds and they are arriving daily. Finally the temperatures are moving up and all the birds in this post are either migrating through, migrating from or migrating to our area. A lot of birds moving somewhere and the air is filled with tweeting.
During the summer and winter, bird number and varieties are relatively constant, but when spring and fall roll around, the birds think ‘time to travel’. We tend to think of spring and fall for seasonal movement, but they are just peak times for our bird friends.
One thing I learned in the last few years watching birds, is you might have to toss out your understanding of the seasons. Birds have different seasons than the ones on the calendar, and are migrating much of the year in the US. Without the help of my birdwatching friends, I would be clueless to the timing of the migrations.
Oh, I wish I had a longer lens… birds on these trips are always too far away.
Spring migration may actually start in January for some species in certain areas of the country. It is even more confusing because with some birds headed northward, they are passing others on their way southward.
Different species fly at different altitudes during migration, looking for altitudes with the best wind conditions for flying. Lower altitudes facing headwinds are difficult for flyers, but the headwind will be less strong closer to the earth. Tailwinds they go higher to make for smoother sailing. Energy saving is a way birds fly cheap, but only at the turn of the year 2000 could science prove how. It was fine tuning how the V pattern worked.
Some birds may relocate to areas not usual to their migration if food reserves are depleted. Others may breed excessively and spread out farther, like what may have happened with the Snowy Owls this year. The one below was still here March 29th. and may need to pack on the fat reserve to make it back home.
Migration of some species like the owl above, end up in an irruption, or unusual migration.
Why can’t they ever fly closer?????
Activities such as feeding, resting, and aggression are often suspended when birds migrate. Good thing because birds have one thing on their minds, just get where they are going safely. Many times, birds go to where the insects will be for feeding the young.
Since birds migrate to set up nesting sites, did you know if it is an El Niño year, that those weather conditions get birds in the mood? Conditions of late winter and early spring of the birds wintering grounds months before they even begin breeding, helps determine the size and success of the bird clutch – up to three times as many baby birds in an El Niño year. Very interesting stuff!
We often don’t see songbirds en route because many species travel at night. There is less predators to confront, because the raptors need the warm thermals of daylight hours in which to fly. Ducks are daytime migrants, but what signals them to start?
The winds like I mentioned. Birdwatchers are weather watchers too I think. They know so much about bird behavior and bird behavior has a lot to do with weather. I am learning so much myself being more attuned to what is around me.
Do you know that migrating is the most dangerous things birds do in their lifetime? Some face abrupt weather changes like raging storms, but many times it is from structures we build.
Many birds will not survive migration.
Birds travel hundreds or thousands of miles avoiding predators, but … we build it and the run into it.
- As many as 80 million songbirds are killed each year by collisions with plate-glass windows.
- Nearly a million songbirds are killed each year by collisions with lighted tall buildings.
- Migrating birds are dying in the blades of wind turbines.
- More than 57 million birds are killed each year from collisions with vehicles.
- 65 million birds die each year from pesticide use. And cats… the numbers of bird deaths are staggering.
- Birds die from fishing line, pop tops on cans, six-pack rings, fishing hooks, and other debris left by fisherman that entangle them.
Many of the birds in this post can suffer such a fate.
When you think about it, nature sets these birds off on their travels, and with all the impediments they face, it is any wonder as many make it as they do.
The oil spill currently off the western coast of Galveston Bay threatens the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary and an untold number of migrating birds. They are mostly shorebirds and I wonder what we will see here as a result.
If the birds think the snow and ice are tough, they can be glad not to be caught in an oil spill.
Next, the big hawk in flight. It circled me like I was dinner.