This is the time of year when migratory birds are on the move! Migratory birds are traveling from their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America to the U.S. and Canada, where they feast on abundant insects and plant foods during spring and summer. How do they know when to leave and where to go?
Birds that migrate short distances – such as waterfowl that migrate within the U.S. – learn migration routes and from older individuals who are more experienced, usually family members. Most long-distance migrants are genetically programmed to head in a specific direction for a specific distance. A bird’s first long-distance migration is completely genetically determined, but more experienced birds may incorporate information learned on past journeys – for example, they may use learned information to return an especially good breeding location in future years.
Viewer Tip: The spring migrants you will see depend on where you live, the time of year and weather conditions. BirdCast provides regional, real-time migration forecasts that take weather conditions into account. Weather conditions in the Great Plains have been generally unfavorable for bird movement, but movement is likely to be heavier this week because of the date. Areas with lighter winds will probably see heavier movement, while areas with heavy precipitation will see lighter movement. Birds you may spot in the Great Plains this week include Common Nighthawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Gray Catbird, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and Warblers (Yellow, Blackpoll and Tennessee).
Check BirdCast for weekly regional updates on weather and migration forecasts.
(Source: Deinlein, M. “Neotropical Migratory Bird Basics.” Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Migratory Bird Center. http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/Fact_Sheets/default.cfm?fxsht=9; eBird. BirdCast Migration Forecast: 4-11 May, 2013, http://birdcast.info/forecast/regional-migration-forecast-4-11-may-2013/; Image of Common Nighthawk courtesy of USFWS)
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