Wednesday, November 11, 2015


With the advent of fall the leaves change colors (at least here in the Midwestern U.S.) signaling that it is migration time.

Many bird species will be flying south for the colder months of the year.  There are about 4,000 species of birds in the world that migrate.  Not all birds migrate, but of the ones that do, their migrations are very different from bird to bird. 

The Arctic Tern does a round trip migration of over 40,000 miles (photo: wikipedia)

Some birds only migrate a short distance, while others have a very long way to go.  For example, the Arctic Tern will do a round trip migration of over 40 THOUSAND miles.  It is the longest migration of any bird.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird only migrates about 600 miles. 
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird travels about 600 miles (photo: wikipedia)

The record for the bird with the longest non-stop flight is the Bar-tailed Godwit.  It flew almost 7,000 miles over a period of eight days.  Some birds even fly over oceans and gulfs during their migrations, spending 100 hours or more in the air before they reach land.  These birds are known as transoceanic migrants. 
The Bartailed Godwit holds the record for the longest non-stop flight (photo: wikipedia)

Some birds only fly 20 or so miles a day, where others have been known to fly for around 600 miles in a day.  The Great Snipe is the fastest migrator, traveling at 60 miles per hour during its migration.  Most raptor species, like hawks, migrate during the day, whereas many songbirds will migrate at night, mostly to stay away from becoming hawk food. 

Speaking of food, many birds go through a stage of hyperphagia before their migration.  This is the technical term for eating A LOT of food.  Some birds, like the Blackpoll Warbler, will even double their body weight for the long trips. 

Flying birds aren’t the only ones that migrate.  Many penguins will swim for their migrations, and Emus will run for miles.  Migrating birds face a lot of threats though.  Weather, temperature, endurance, predators, but most migration deaths are because of people.  Billions of birds die every year due to collisions with windows, TV and radio towers, and power lines.  Even the bright lights of a city can alter a bird’s migration. 

A few things we as individuals can do to help these birds out include: keeping cats indoors all the time (cats are one of the leading causes of bird deaths), put up window stickers or tint your windows to prevent collisions, keep your bird feeders and birdbaths clean, and create a good pit stop for the birds in your backyard.  Keeping native grasses, plants, and trees will greatly help the birds and their environment as they migrate.

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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