Birds are nomads in the animal world, traveling with the change of seasons. Some birds stay in one area throughout the year, but most are condemned to constantly move, following their food source.
As the temperatures cool in the fall, birds who feed exclusively on insects, fruit or pollen must migrate to the warmer climates of South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. As spring returns to North America, so do the birds, following their food back.
The importance of migratory birds cannot be overlooked. Birds are our best natural insect control, eating tons of insects annually. As leaves emerge, so do millions of caterpillars and insects. Coinciding with this event, an array of birds, like orioles, vireos, flycatchers, warblers and swallows return to feast upon the abundance of insects.
More than 350 species of birds make this annual migration, including some raptors and a few waterfowl. The Chesapeake Bay watershed contains many types of habitats that attract a wide variety of birds.
Osprey nests on docks, bridges, pilings and water markers decorate open water areas. Marshes come alive with red-winged blackbirds, saltmarsh sparrows, seaside sparrows and black rails. Isolated islands are perfect nesting habitat for black ducks, common terns and snowy egrets.
Bluebirds, prairie warblers and field sparrows find plenty of insects and nesting areas in open meadows. Forests provide food and cover for many migratory birds, especially warbler species, such as Kentucky, prothonotary, yellow, hooded and pine warblers, as well as other songbirds like the great crested flycatcher, red-eyed vireo, eastern
towhee, eastern wood-pewee, whip-poor-will and wood thrush.
Even small pockets of trees, shrubs and flowers in urban and suburban areas bring back barn swallows, ruby-throated hummingbirds, gray catbirds, and chipping sparrows.
The second Saturday of May is International Migratory Bird Day. This year, IMBD is celebrating its 20th anniversary by focusing on 20 ways people can preserve birds every day. Here they are:
1. Prevent Bird Collisions with Windows: Collisions are one of the most frequent causes of bird deaths. Putting up curtains or window decals helps to make windows visible to birds.
2. Protect Birds from Pets: Unleashed dogs and outdoor cats can disturb, chase and kill birds.
3. Clean Bird Feeders: Dirty feeders spread disease. Clean out old seed frequently and put fresh water in the bird bath every day.
4. Don't Buy Illegally Caged Birds: Buy only captive-bred birds. Make certain that the breeder or pet store is reputable.
5. Use Reusable Bags & Bottles: Birds that mistakenly eat plastic trash can become ill or die.
6. Recycle & Properly Dispose of Fishing Line: Anything that can be recycled reduces litter and saves resources. Birds, like osprey, can become entangled in fishing line and other trash they may pick up to use in making their nests.
7. Restore Natural Habitat in the Community: Birds need a place to live. Work with others in the community to recreate the habitat that once existed in the area.
8. Keep Your Distance: Birds need space for feeding, nesting and other daily activities.
9. Leave Fledglings Where They Are Found: Young birds may spend several days on the ground after they leave the nest before they are able to fly. Keep people and pets away, so the parents can continue to care for them.
10. Slow Down When Driving: Cars kill millions of birds each year. Slow down if there is a bird or other animal in the road.
11. Buy Bird-Friendly Products: Help to preserve bird habitat in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean by buying shade-grown coffee and chocolate. Shade coffee farms support many more bird species than sun coffee farms.
12. Plant Natives: Native plants provide food, nest sites and cover for birds.
13. Teach Others About Birds: Talk to friends about birds. The more that people know, the more they can do to help.
14. Get Outdoors: Appreciate the bird habitat near your home. Explore a local park or neighborhood.
15. Take a Friend Birding: Invite a buddy. See if you can spot more birds together.
16. Support Conservation: Join a bird club or other conservation organization to learn more and contribute to protecting birds.
17. Be a Citizen Scientist: Many projects need helpers to gather data on birds and their habitat. Contact a local conservation organization to volunteer.
18. Reduce Energy Use: Riding a bike or walking reduces pollution in bird habitats.
19. Avoid Chemicals: Birds may accidentally eat pesticide and herbicide pellets which can harm them or have harmful effects on growing embryos.
20. Learn the Hunting Laws: Federal and local laws protect sensitive areas and manage the harvest of birds to ensure healthy populations.Â Purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.
For information and education resources about bird conservation, go to the Environment for the Americas website: www.birdday.org.