Did you ever wake up to the singing of hundreds of robins outside your window? If not, maybe you will this year. They will soon be returning to Florida from the cold north. The migration is coming! Actually, bird migration is always happening somewhere. However, the migration of certain birds that birders wish to see along the east coast occurs from late summer to late fall.
Some birds that live in temperate climates migrate to warmer areas for the winter, whereas others do not. Those that stay change their eating habits to accommodate what is available. Of those that do fly south, many will spend the entire season here in Florida. For others, this is just a temporary stop on their way to the Caribbean or South America.
Migrations are instigated by shorter days, colder weather and a lack of food. Some birds migrate across continents and others fly only a few states south. Instinct guides migrating birds and helps them to navigate. If they fly by night, they are using the stars. Many warblers migrate at night. We have seen the photos in birding magazines of literally hundreds and hundreds of warblers crossing the harvest moon. If they fly by day, they are using the sun.
Few birds migrate in nonstop journeys. Most make a series of shorter trips. They will stop and rest for days or weeks and gorge themselves with food to fuel the long trek to warm climates. When they are ready and the weather is right, they continue their migration.
During this time, bird watchers can often be spotted migrating to special sites, hoping to witness what is called a fall out. This is when huge numbers of warblers drop down to rest, feed and prepare for the next segment of their journey.
The migration of snow geese in New Mexico is an amazing sight. Several of my birding companions and I went to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to witness this beautiful event. It’s best to see the geese at sunrise, when thousands upon thousands of snow geese, Ross’s geese and sandhill cranes take off from the wetlands in the pink dawn glow.
Geese migrate during the day. They recognize the terrain over which they fly. That is their built-in map of where to go. The young birds will follow their elders and learn the path. It is exciting to see the huge V-shaped formations of geese flying south.
If you visit Cape May Observatory from this time of the year until November, you will see hawk counters there. They will be conducting a census of the migrating raptor population. Mid-September, we can see peregrines and broad-winged hawks traveling as far as South America. However, bald eagles will travel only to Florida along the eastern seaboard area.
One of my most exciting experiences of raptor migration is when a good friend and I drove to Point Pelee National Park in Canada after three days at the Midwest Birding Symposium. It was a windy, cold, bleak fall day.
We made it out to the point and we were quite surprised to see a huge migration of monarch butterflies clustered on the bushes lining the beach. In addition, the high winds were bringing in peregrine falcons and American kestrels one after another. A small crowd had gathered to watch the struggle of the falcons trying to land. In the face of these incredible observations, we soon forgot about the cold wind biting at us.
What we know and understand about bird migrations is just touching on the teeny tip of the iceberg. Each area of our nation experiences different types of migration. Some birds travel east to west or west to east or not at all. Some birds may travel 20 feet and that is their migration. It is extremely interesting to follow the paths on the computer of the different species of birds. Some paths are over a thousand miles and some just a few hundred.
Keep your eyes to the sky this fall. This is the time of the year we begin seeing new avian arrivals and those just passing through. It’s an awesome time to be a birder in Florida!
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.