International Migratory Bird Day celebrates and calls attention to one of the most important and spectacular events in the Americas — bird migration. Bird Day is celebrated in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
IMBD officially takes place on the second Saturday in May in the United States and Canada and in October in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean each year.
But this date doesn’t work well for all bird events or for the migratory birds themselves. To the south, migratory birds have left, heading for breeding sites in the north. Farther north, the birds haven’t arrived. Now, IMBD is celebrated almost year-round. Most U.S. and Canada events take place in April and May, while fall events are the norm in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Not everyone is aware of the diversity of birds around the world, the amazing migrations some species take or the phenomenal range of their behaviors, plumages and songs.
Some bird species provide practical solutions to problems, such as the need for insect and rodent control. Others disperse seeds, helping to revegetate disturbed areas. Others are pollinators, ensuring that we are graced with flowering plants, trees and shrubs. Beyond the utilitarian, birds are inspirations for the arts.
If that’s not enough, birds also contribute to the economy. The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation noted that 71.8 million Americans participated in some kind of wildlife-watching recreation, including observing, feeding or photographing. Birds attract the biggest following of all U.S. wildlife. Approximately 46.7 million people observed birds around the home and on trips in 2011. A large majority, 88 percent (41.3 million), observed wild birds around the home, while 38 percent (17.8 million) took trips away from home to observe wild birds. Participants averaged a startling 110 days of birding in 2011. Home birders averaged 119 days, while away-from-home birders averaged 13 days.
Here are some birds one might may see — or hear — near one’s home, as well as and some of the benefits these species provide:
- Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris): Ruby-throated hummingbirds are well-known for transferring pollen from flower to flower. But they also quite adept at capturing and eating a variety of small, flying insects: mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies and small bees. As precision flyers, hummingbirds are able to stop quickly, hang in midair, fly backward and sideways, all with fine-tuned control.
- Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicencis): Red-tailed Hawks play a vital role in controlling small mammal populations, with rodents making up about 85 percent of their diet. Their excellent eyesight helps them spot small mammals, such as mice, voles, shrews, squirrels, rabbits and opossums from heights of up to 100 feet before they swoop down from the air and use their sharp talons to capture their prey. Red-tailed hawks have a very wide range and are found throughout North America. It is one of the most common hawks, and one is likely to see this bird of prey perched on high wires and poles or slowly circling the sky in search of their next meal.
- Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia): Yellow warblers control insects on both their breeding and wintering grounds. On their winter grounds, yellow warblers eat insects that attack coffee plants. Coffee drinkers should be happy about that! The small beautiful warbler is usually found in brushy areas near water, singing “Sweet sweet sweet, I’m so sweet.” Yellow warblers range widely across North America in breeding season and through Mexico, and Central and South America in the winter.
- Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura): Turkey vultures have earned recognition as nature’s sanitation crew. Flying low over the ground, they use their incredible sense of smell and keen eyesight to search for the decaying animals to eat. It’s hard to miss a turkey vulture: One of the largest flying birds, it has a wingspan of almost 6 feet and a red head with no feathers. Unfortunately, the important role vultures play in nature has also given them a bad reputation.
- American Robin (Turdus migratorius) Many studies have shown that robins play an important role in dispersing the seeds of diverse trees and shrubs. American robins have a wide range and can be found breeding in Canada, wintering in Mexico or residing in the United States year-round. While most people think of worms as their preferred food, robins also eat fruit.
- Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus): Birds are important indicators of environmental change, and the decline in peregrine falcon and other raptor populations was an indicator of how dangerous DDT is to wildlife — and potentially humans. It was not too long ago that peregrine falcon populations were decimated and listed as endangered because of the impacts of the pesticide DDT, which was commonly used to control insects during the 1950s and 1960s. As DDT moved up the food chain from the plants to small mammals and birds — which peregrine falcons eat — the pesticide built up in their fat tissues. Eventually, chemicals in DDT affected the amount of calcium in the birds’ eggs. These thin-shelled eggs were crushed by adult birds before the young could hatch. Peregrine falcon populations began to increase after DDT was banned in the United States in 1972. The peregrine falcon was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999.
For information on birds and international Bird Day events, as well as ways one can participate to conserve birds, visit www.birdday.org.