No Spring For You – Bird Spring Migration


And this is Spring…

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.


Tundra Swan- You have to take my word for it.

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.


Anti-social Hooded Mergansers

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.

Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans in V formation, way, way up there.

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.


Snowy Owl

Migration of some species like the owl above, end up in an irruption, or unusual migration.


Snow Geese, again you need to believe me.

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.


Canvasback, Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead ducks, now this is what I am talking about birds. Close.

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!


Great Egret hiding behind a branch, yet I see you.

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.


Would it not be better if they turned to the right?

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.


Turkey Vulture sunning just for me.

Many birds will not survive migration.

Birds travel hundreds or thousands of miles avoiding predators, but … we build it and the run into it.


Blue Heron and Great Egret on Beaver island Pond. Lets all hide now.

  • 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.

Female Canvasbacks up to their ankles in slushy ice.

  • 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.


I like when the snow sparkles.

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.


Canvasback pair, Goldeneye

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.


Canada Geese, I did not mean to insult you, come back.

Next, the big hawk in flight. It circled me like I was dinner.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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45 Responses to No Spring For You – Bird Spring Migration

  1. writeejit says:

    Wonderful to see all your bird visitors. Particularly liked the photo of the heron and egret. I didn’t know the great egret came so far north, especially in winter.

    • I did not know that either and used to call it White Egret, but the birdwatchers who do the weekly counts, counted this Egret at the location I was and listed it as Great Egret. I am pretty sure they are right only because they are rarely wrong on any bird ID. Two different birders saw it besides me. I am new to birdwatching and always go by what they tell me.

  2. My Heartsong says:

    I remember one year when friends were counting birds in May and a snow storm hit and the poor warblers came into the cook shed to get warm but would drop dead because it was just too cold-heart-breaking for the birders. If there isn’t a good food source, they will keep flying but may forgo nesting and that is why some years the numbers drop.East of here the ponds dried up due to drought so the migration route has changed accordingly.We still have snow and recently heard that it is a good idea to feed Robins meal worms when things are frozen to supplement their diet. It can be a tough existence .

    • I was told by my birdwatching friends something very interesting about Warblers. They come in phases, usually 3. The first phase comes very early to get the jump on finding a mate and setting up a nesting site. If the weather is mild, they are the successful Warblers. If not they die and the next phase comes in behind them. If that group dies, the third group comes in late and reaps the benefit of being late. If the third group comes late and the first groups is successful, they lose out. It is natures way of always having Warblers I was told.

  3. OK, now I’m depressed. 😉 Of course, I know about these dangers and statistics, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair. Plus, we have cats running around the neighborhood, which really makes me mad!! I keep my cats inside, and some people would say that’s cruel but they have a very good life. And this way, they don’t contribute to the slaughter of songbirds. Argh. I wish cat owners would take that threat seriously. No snow here, but it’s cool. Robins everywhere, so they must be finding enough earthworms.

    • I always wondered how they arrive at these statistics, but since they come for Audubon and Nat Geo, they are reliable sources. I have problems with cats to. I was at a huge preserve today, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, and my friend and I saw house cats there. Can you imagine people dumping them at a place like that? It has always been a problem at Niagara Falls State Parks too and the Parks department has to round up cats left there each year.

  4. Debra says:

    That oil spill really couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I heard once that bird migrations can be so large that they show up on weather radar readings!
    Lovely images as always. Thanks, again.

    • I read the same thing and hope they are getting it under control. I read they are cleaning birds, but that so far it was not that many. When you factor in accidents like this, the yearly totals climb from birds lost.

  5. Annette says:

    You shock me with these figures, Donna, but then you haven’t even included those poor creatures that get caught en route in Malta, Italy for the table. It’s disgusting! I wait for our nightingales to return and always worry about them. You have such a variety of birds in your area – hot spot for bird watchers! It’s noted!

    • I have no idea how they determine losses, but it must be done by taking surveys in certain areas and extrapolating the results. I know so little about those counties that capture songbirds to eat. I did read a Nat Geo article last year on the migration, and it is a crime so many birds get captured and how the get captured. I saw them use a type of sticky substance where the birds land and are stuck. So cruel.

  6. This is so interesting, I mean about migration, animal behaviour and different calendars in the natural world. To me this puts us, human beings, in our place, which means we must learn about other creatures we share the planet, our home, with. Thanks for the lessons!

  7. love your bird photos, you have such an interesting variety!

    • Thank you. Saw a few news ones yesterday too. Migration only has these birds in our area for such a short time each year. Yesterday, I saw over 10,000 Snow Geese. It was an amazing sight.

  8. I didn’t know some birds fly at night. Very interesting!

  9. I am not really a “bird” person, but your post has so many interesting facts about migration and the photos are so wonderful that I was enthralled.

    • Thank you for your interest, Carolyn. Birds and gardens are so intertwined that I look at gardens to support wildlife – well not the ones in this post most likely, but some of my clients have wetland property and large ponds/lakes.

  10. Wonderful pictures. Its already feeling like summer here in the south. The colorful birds that migrate here every year in the winter are amazing.

  11. Pat says:

    Interesting facts and figures accompanied by your beautiful photos.

  12. I was talking to someone at the WBU about this. He was saying that migration times are really unrelated to weather or even availability of food, which surprised me.

    • Being so involved with the birdwatchers, naturalists and Cornell, I ask so many questions to the experts I encounter. There are lists that the birdwatchers have with migration dates in our area for each species of bird, and I find it interesting that most birds almost follow it to a tee. If it says April 1st to the 10th for American Bittern for instance, some will be here on the 1st very likely. I saw the Great Egret in this post March 31 and they are not due here until April 21, so some birds do make appearances out of the ordinarily expected times.

  13. Great photos and info. 😀

  14. Nick Hunter says:

    Nice work Donna. I was able to enjoy your adventure vicariously and was impressed by the variety of waterfowl that you found (and captured). I’ve never seen a Tundra Swan.and was a bit envious of that experience!

    • Right now, there are big flocks of Tundra Swan in the marshes, the only problem is the marshes are huge. I have more of them coming up, some closer though. I do think the Mute Swan is prettier, but NYS wants to cull them and there is a big debate on that here.

  15. bittster says:

    Great photographs, it’s nice to see you jumping into the world of birds with so much enthusiasm! You have a wealth of water birds at your doorstep (or nearly!) and I suspect most of your neighbors don’t even know about it. Good to see you taking advantage of it instead of whining about the beauty of foreign lands 🙂

    • Bird migration is for a short time here, so I have to get in my trips with the birders this month. We take some trips in summer to see the shorebirds though and that is my favorite trip. Mainly because my lens is long enough to capture them on shore. Fall is a good time for the birds going back and again is a short time of birdwatching. I think you are right on many not knowing. I did not know the great variety of birds before two years ago either. Only the owl photo was taken on a trip with the birders, but upcoming posts take readers to birding hotspots and by that I mean flocks in the thousands of Tundra Swan and Snow Geese for example. It really is amazing to see over 10,000 Snow Geese at once.

      • bittster says:

        I’m looking forward to the swan and snow geese posts. There’s a wildlife management area in Pa where those same (maybe)geese and swan stage before heading further north. Each spring I consider going, but maybe to see some photos will push me over the edge for next year! Actually I was just talking about it today to someone, and they said they were up for the trip, so maybe 2015!

  16. More snow??? When does it end up there normally? Great post and photos as always. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  17. Lyle Krahn says:

    That does seem late for the snowy owl to be around. I had assumed they were all on their way by now since I thot I’d remembered reading they left around the middle of March. In any case its always nice to see them.

    • Birders saw one even later in our area, just yesterday by the daily reports. I was wondering if then owls are sticking around longer because of a meager food this winter. The birders did not act as surprised at seeing them as I did, so maybe they are often late here. We have them in our countryside each winter, just not as many as this year.

  18. mariekeates says:

    Surprising what man and nature throws at them and they still survive.

    • What we build is not really our fault since we build to fit our needs, but sometimes we build in places that are flyways, like the wind turbines. That does not make as much sense to me.

  19. I always look forward to your posts, Donna. Got busy with work, so haven’t had much of a chance to check out my favorite bloggers for a few weeks, but it is always a pleasure to see what you and your camera have been up to. Thanks.

  20. Phil Lanoue says:

    Tremendous series of excellent bird photos!
    We were just saying this morning that everything is out of whack here now. We still have some ducks that should be long gone by now yet have some other birds that shouldn’t be here until later in the spring.

    • Thank you much, Phil. I was out this afternoon looking for ducks and found them gone from my favorite spots. I asked another birdwatcher and he said they moved to a less windy spot on the lake. But I too noticed birds that are too early and those that should have left.

  21. debsgarden says:

    Six inches of snow and it feels like spring; you do put things in perspective! Your bird photos are outstanding. It is amazing how many birds survive both natural and manmade perils. I always worry about the tiny hummingbirds that feed in my garden, then head south to cross the Gulf of Mexico – during hurricane season!

    • Thank you, Deb. Finally it melted, yet last night, snow was in the forecast. We were so fortunate it did not come. Hummingbirds are unto Maryland now according to the migration list. I hope they wait a bit before coming here. I usually see them in May. They are scheduled May 1 – 10 here.I cannot imagine them flying in a hurricane, yet science showed they can. Hummingbirds Come Rain, Sleet, or Snow

  22. I learn so much from your posts. I love watching birds but haven’t had time in so many years. Perhaps as things settle down, I can try again. But wow the images you have caught and so many different birds. And I did not know that about an El Niño year.

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