SciSun: Just passin’ through

This time of the year, almost anyone in the US can see migrating birds.   In the Fall, some species of birds fly South because it’s warmer and there’s more food (who can blame them for that?).   Then in the Spring, they return North for the summer and, usually, to lay eggs and raise chicks (have to show their chicks the old neighborhood!)   Some species stay in the same area all year round, but migrate vertically – moving from mountains to valleys.  Others move between wet and dry areas.   Almost everyone’s got someplace to go!

Almost everyone.  Not all birds migrate.  Some are Permanent Residents, who live in the same area all year round.  House Sparrows, Hawks and Falcons, and Quail are types you can see all year.    Summer Residents are birds that live far South – Central and South America – and travel to the Northern US in the fall.  Winter Residents are just the opposite; they live in Northern Canada, and travel to the US for the winter!   Birds that might stop by for a few days are Transients, on their way North, or South, and need some food or rest before continuing on their journey.

Migrating can be very dangerous.  Not only in the Americas but throughout the world birds face harsh weather, not enough food, tall buildings and towers, hunters, and other threats.  Only a portion of the birds that started on the journey reach their destination.   All migrating birds follow flyways, which are like invisible bird highways in the sky that generations of birds have used for hundreds or thousands of years.  So if something significant changes along that flyway – farms and fields paved over with new construction, or forests cut down, or tall towers built – it makes a hard flight even more dangerous.

Thanks to WikimediaSo in the next few weeks don’t be surprised if you see some birds that are different from what you usually see!  Enjoy watching them (from a distance!), and remember they have come a long way, and might have an even longer way to go.  They are just passin’ though.

Most birds fly when they migrate. These guys decided to walk.

Dig Deeper!

There are lots of great places to learn more about Bird Migration. Here are a few to get you started:

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/MigratoryBirds/Education/Kids_Stuff/Woth_game/default.cfm

http://www.leo.lehigh.edu/projects/birds/migration.html

http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/migratio/index.htm

And don’t forget your local library!

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