Spring is in the air. This exquisite time of year signals the birth of new life, warmer weather, greener trees, and the return of migrating birds. In North America, most birds migrate to some extent, with more than 30 species traveling between climates in the U.S. and tropics each year.
A bird that carries out one of these impressive of these treks is the Arctic tern, flying over 22,000 miles (35,000 km) in its annual round trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic. These birds are constantly living in summer and experience more daylight than any other creature.
Why do birds migrate?
Several centuries ago, why and when birds migrated was a mystery. Some people believed they disappeared because they fell asleep at the bottom of ponds, lakes, or even the moon.
Thanks to trackers and scientific study, we now know that these animals travel long distances to live in hotter climates during this time. This migration increases their chance of survival, giving them a better chance to find a mate and food and to avoid predators.
How do birds find their way?
Just like female elephant seals, many bird species have a natural internal GPS. This innate ability is passed on genetically, selected through evolution by helping surviving birds procreate. The cuckoo is an example of a bird with this ability, being able to travel alone from Europe to Africa and back again.
Some species inherit this ability through social learning or “cultural inheritance.” Here, birds learn the safest flying routes through trips with their parents. For example, Caspians fathers carry the responsibility of teaching their young the correct migration patterns.
Impressively, it is natural cues that alert the birds it is time to migrate. The shape of the coastline, the position of the stars, or the smell of their nest can all sign it’s time to move to a warmer climate.
How to help out our migrating friends?
Bird migration is important to maintain biodiversity in natural ecosystems. If you would like to help the birds during their visit to your country, here are a few ideas.
Providing easily accessible food will help increase the chance of survival for birds in your area. Bird feeders full of nuts, seeds, and household scraps such as pastry, fruit, and cheese, will provide the animals with the fuel they need. The diet of some species is insect-based, so for these birds, enhancing biodiversity in your garden would be beneficial. Creating a wildflower meadow or taking part in No Mow May can hugely boost the number and type of insects that will visit your yard.
Birds also need water, so a small bird path or wildlife pond for drinking and bathing is ideal. Nest boxes also provide a resting place for migrating birds, especially in urban areas where there are fewer natural resources.
For further tips to attract more nesting birds this spring, check out this article.