Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Birds on the Move

March 1: a big day for me because March is the month when many songbirds start their migration north to their breeding grounds. I am so ready for them! I am ready for their dawn song, their frantic nest building, the hatching of the eggs, the fledglings making their way around my yard, the parents flitting back and forth between food sources and home.

There are amazing technologies out there for tracking the migration of birds - and a lot of information about migrants gathered carefully by everyday citizen scientists who go out birdwatching and record their data online in various forums.

Birdcast.org will soon begin weekly forecasts of bird migrations. It is so much fun to read their forecasts and then watch them come true in your yard that week. If Birdcast says you will see a grey catbird in your region by early Tuesday, you can bet you’ll hear its iconic mewing sound on that day. But these forecasts are not only for our delight as birdwatchers. They are essential to persuading wind farms to shut off their turbines during certain days or times of day to avoid grinding up millions of migrating songbirds. Big building lights can also be dimmed strategically so that the birds are not confused by the lights, which can get them off course or lead them to crash into the buildings as they fly.

Ebird.org is also a useful resource. Individual birders record the species they observe in particular areas - and the data is coming in from all over the world - so that you can figure out where to go to see a migrating species arrive to stay or to fly through quickly on their way further north. This tool helps a lot during warbler season especially. A lot of warblers remain in our area only for a few weeks, and this tool helps me know where I am likely to find them. Over time, these recorded observations (coupled with radar, which picks up flocks of migrating birds) can also help scientists track how arrival and departure dates for certain species change from year to year, which could be useful in determining the effects of weather, climate change, food source availability, and other phenomena on bird migration. Apparently scientists are still using Henry David Thoreau’s carefully recorded observations of weather, nature, and wildlife as a baseline for comparison with later years in the area around Walden Pond!

Such tools can help us learn about and enjoy nature, and they are also an excellent way to participate in science as a non-scientist. Please write in the comments if you have another tool that helps you enjoy the migration season.

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