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Birds on the Move

bird migration

While most human travel plans have been grounded for now, millions of animals around the globe are migrating as they always have. Whales, caribou and hundreds of other species roam great distances in search of better places for eating, mating and bearing their young.

But birds are the animal most associated with migration. Each year, hundreds of species migrate south for the winter when seasonal changes in the north affect the availability of the seeds, nuts, insects or small animals they eat.

By closely observing parts of these migrations, we can learn a lot about the birds and their journeys. Hawk Watch is an organized effort to collect migration data about diurnal raptors like hawks, eagles and falcons. Planned at sites all over the country, the program invites volunteers to watch and count the birds as they pass. Changes in the numbers from year to year can give insight into possible dangers they are facing. And because these birds are at the top of the food chain, when their numbers dwindle it can be a sign that their prey is in trouble too.

At the Wildlife Center of Virginia, a broad-winged hawk named Grayson is one of the many education animals used to raise awareness about raptors. She arrived in 2010, after being found on the ground with a broken wing. Her fracture was surgically repaired, but it left her with a limited range of motion that made it unsafe for her to return to the wild.

She also teaches about habitat loss, the greatest threat to migrating birds. They rely on forested areas for cover when they rest and eat along their journey, so when these natural landscapes disappear because of fire, construction or logging, the birds may not have the strength to safely complete the trip.

Other risks along the way include collisions—glass buildings, wind turbines, communication towers and power lines can abruptly end the journey for any bird. And with smaller birds, cats can do a surprising amount of damage too, killing billions of them every year.

What You Can Do!

  • Use high quality bird feed, especially in the spring and fall when birds are migrating. This will help birds get the energy they need for the next leg of the journey.
  • Keep feeders clean. A moldy feeder can make birds very sick and abruptly end their migration journey. Cleaning and disinfecting your feeders can greatly reduce that risk.
  • Avoid feeding waterfowl. It invites migratory and non-migratory species to mingle, which exposes each of them to diseases they might not be able to fight off.
  • Keep your cats indoors. Even if they’ve never brought the evidence to your doorstep, cats can be killing machines that wreak havoc on birds.
  • Go to a Hawk Watch and help with the counting. Volunteers are welcome and will be trained by experienced counters.
  • Like the sunrise and the tides, bird migration is one of nature’s wondrous, unfailing cycles. For a front-row seat, make some plans for fall birdwatching or add one of these springtime birding spots to your spring travel list. It’s a feast for the eyes and great learning experience!