Help Birds on Their Migratory Journey

by Anna Autilio
Lead, Environmental Educator
In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” September’s call to action is to help birds along on their migratory journey, discovering small ways changing our habits can make a big difference for birds…
Each year around this time, our Broad-winged Hawk ambassador, Northfield, gets fidgety. Soon the other birds begin to catch it—Bridport the Rough-legged Hawk, too, seemingly develops ants in her famous rough-legged “pants”. They are experiencing a feeling that English doesn’t have a word for, but German ornithologists termed zugunruhe, or “migratory restlessness”.
Migration is a phenomenon that was long poorly understood. Migration is defined as the seasonal, directed movements of organisms back and forth between where they raise their young, and where they spend the winter. Many species of animals migrate, and the reasons they undertake these arduous, sometimes multiple 1,000-mile journeys are varied. Seeking warmer temperatures, more plentiful food, reduced disease exposure and competition, migratory birds rely on multiple habitats spread across a wide geographic range in order to survive to breed every year.
A new field within conservation biology studies “migratory connectivity” looking at the demands of a single migratory species for these diverse habitats, and aims to bring communities and countries together under the common cause of protecting land for birds. As an example, although birds of prey are protected by law in the United States, they are often not in the countries they inhabit in the winter months, in Central and South America.
How can we here in Vermont help birds on their journey? Here are a few easy actions we can all take to ensure the safety of these creatures while they pass through our woods:
1.       Opt for shade-grown coffee and chocolate. This action supports the cultivation of habitats that are safe for birds in Central and South America, and encourages others to adopt sustainable farming practices.
2.       Avoid using chemicals outdoors. Pesticides and rodenticides are leading killers of many migratory birds, an accidental side effect of our efforts. Try snap-traps instead, or biodegradable solutions.
3.       Turn off the lights at night. Some migrating birds navigate using starlight, and can become disoriented and thrown off course by artificial lights.
4.       Keep cats indoors. Domestic cats kill over 3 billion birds per year. It is safer for birds, and safer for cats, to be kept indoors where they don’t run the risk of catching disease, or becoming injured.
5.       Prevent window collisions. The second leading cause of bird deaths year-round is collisions with windows or buildings. You can make windows easier to see and avoid by sticking up UV-reflective decals (available at the VINS Nature Store!) or hanging soft screens over the glass.
6.       Plant native grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees. In this way you will be providing food and shelter for migratory birds that stop by your yard.
7.       Keep bird feeders and bird baths clean. Don’t simply refill them—take them in for a good scrub whenever they get empty. This will prevent the spread of diseases between bird populations that cycle through your yard.
Let us know what actions you are taking to help birds this fall!

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