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May 13th is International Migratory Bird Day!!

Posted on May 13, 2017 by deborah  | Tags: migratory birds, habitat, avian, bird, migrate, international

In 2017, Environment for the Americas invites you to join in the celebration of the importance of stopover sites and their habitats. Whether you learn about a stopover site near your home, visit one far away, or create a safe place for birds in your backyard, your support can mean a safe journey for a migratory bird. Join the celebration!

May 13th is International Migratory Bird Day!!

When birds migrate between nesting and wintering sites, they don’t just stop anywhere; they rely on a handful of resource-rich and strategically located sites where they may double their body weight as they acquire the energy-rich fat needed to fly thousands of kilometers across continents and oceans. These places are known as stopover sites. Some stopover sites are well known, such as along the coasts of Louisiana, New Jersey, and the Upper Bay of Panama, where birds stop after traveling along the shoreline. Others are inland, such as Venezuela's grasslands, wetlands in the central United States, and even urban parks and backyards.

In 2017, Environment for the Americas invites you to join in the celebration of the importance of stopover sites and their habitats. Whether you learn about a stopover site near your home, visit one far away, or create a safe place for birds in your backyard, your support can mean a safe journey for a migratory bird. Join the celebration!

What is a Stopover Site?

The important locations where birds pause between migratory flights are called stopover sites, as well as refueling, staging and on route areas.


Birds expend considerable energy during the process of migrating, and may burn most of the fat stored in their body which accumulated at their last stop. Where these long-distance travelers decide to land and rest can depend on the bird’s condition, their normal range of daily flight, weather, and the availability and preferences for habitat and food. They may become exhausted after flying across a large body of water, like the Gulf of Mexico, or through the harsh terrain of deserts or mountains. They may also run into difficult flying conditions, pushed off course by hurricanes or caught in early or late winter storms. From the air, the landscape below helps guide birds to habitats which appear to have the food, water and shelter they need, but after landing they must explore the area to determine if it is adequate or if they need to move further along to areas with more resources.


Since birds often use the same stopover sites year after year, it is important that these habitats are protected to provide what migrating birds need, whether their stops last for a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. The continued existence of these sites is critical to both their short-term and long-term survival. They must find a place with shelter and enough food to allow them to make the next flight along their route.


Thus, if we want to conserve migratory birds, we need to know and protect not only where they breed and winter, but also the important places they use in between. Migrants may stop at a national park, national forest, or wildlife refuge, but they may also stop in your backyard it’s up to us to make sure they have somewhere safe to land, feed, and recover!


Learn more about some of the bird species that depend on stopover habitats from Venezuela’s grasslands to the shorelines of the Great Lakes.


FOREST BIRDS (Black-throated Blue Warbler, Wood Thrush)

After breeding in southeastern Canada, northeastern United States and the Appalachian Mountains, the Black-throated Blue Warbler migrates through forested habitats on route to wintering grounds in the Greater Antilles. Another eastern forest bird, the Wood Thrush, whose ethereal summer song is a favorite of bird lovers, migrates across the Gulf of Mexico to southern Mexico and Central America. Heading north in the spring, the Wood Thrush, which is in steep decline, must stop along the Gulf Coast to rest and refuel. Tracking technologies, including radar and geolocators, have demonstrated how important these coastal areas are for the Wood Thrush during migration. Even urban oases, like Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. and Central Park in New York City, provide important stopover habitat for both these forest birds.



Those who live east of the Mississippi River may think of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird as a backyard bird, one we enjoy watching at our hummingbird feeders, but it is a species shared with many countries. Before its migration across the Gulf of Mexico to wintering grounds in southern Mexico and Central America, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird must fatten up on nectar and insects, so we can play a role in ensuring this charismatic species has sufficient food for the journey.



The Boreal and Rocky Mountain forests and the tropical forests of Mexico and Central America bear little resemblance to the wetlands along the San Pedro River in Arizona, but the Wilson’s Warbler needs all of these habitats to support its annual life cycle. During migration, this species is one of the most prevalent along the San Pedro, an important migratory corridor in the southwestern United States.


THE SPECTACLE OF MIGRATION (Tree Swallow, Merlin; Western Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs)

Some stopover sites are well known for their bird migration spectacle, and for supporting a diversity of migrating species. Cape May, New Jersey, for example, is famous for concentrations of Tree Swallows in the fall. Huge flocks, once estimated at half a million birds, “stage” here to feast on the abundant insects in preparation for migration, which, in turn, creates a visual feast for bird watchers. The Merlin, a small falcon which breeds in northern forests and prairies, also migrates along this coast and congregates at Cape May during the fall, with counts of up to almost 2,000. Given that their prey is small to medium-sized birds, the Merlin has a lot to choose from at Cape May during migration! Shorebirds like the Western Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs also migrate along the coast of New Jersey, but the spectacle for these species occurs in different geographic areas. At the San Francisco Bay in California, Copper River Delta in Alaska and Fraser River Delta in British Columbia, hundreds of thousands of Western Sandpipers congregate to rest and refuel during spring migration. Birders can witness an astounding five million shorebirds at the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival each May! During southward migration, the Upper Bay of Panama, Parte Alta de la Bahía de Panama, hosts more Western Sandpipers than any other stopover area. Interior sites like Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas are also important for both species during migration, but especially for the Lesser Yellowlegs in spring when over 50,000 birds stage there.



The abundant Green-winged Teal, most of which breed in Canada, migrates along all the major flyways, but protected inland and coastal marshes such as Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas and Magee Marsh on Lake Erie in Ohio are important during their transit. The conservation of wetlands used by waterfowl and the associated upland habitat also benefits many land bird and shorebird species during migration.



The Painting Bunting, the male of which is considered the most stunning songbird in North America, breeds in the south-central and south Atlantic states. The migration ecology of this declining species is complex and unusual, with two distinct populations whose migratory routes and molting times differ. The western population migrates to southeastern Arizona and northwestern Mexico to undergo a partial molt, then continues to wintering grounds in southern Mexico and Central America, whereas the eastern population molts on the breeding grounds before migrating to spend the winter in southern Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas. The beauty of the Painted Bunting has made it a popular cage bird, an illegal trade but one unfortunately still practiced in some countries.



The Bobolink, a striking bird of prairies and fields, has one of the longest migrations of any songbird in the world. Its amazing migration from such geographically separated breeding areas as Oregon, Nebraska, and Vermont has been documented through the use of geolocators. These Bobolinks migrated through the Caribbean to the Llanos of northern Venezuela and Bolivia, before reaching wintering grounds in Argentina. Such tracking technology has helped us to learn about the “migratory connectivity” of bird populations throughout their annual life cycle, and the stopover sites they use that are important for us to protect.


What You Can Do


Migrating birds need shelter, food, water, and a haven. Make your yard a place where they can have these needs met, and you will be richly rewarded with their presence. Plant native vegetation for cover and as a source of insects, seeds and fruits, and provide fresh water. Encourage your neighbors to do the same. If feeders are put out for migrating hummingbirds, make sure the feeders are kept clean and the sugar water is changed regularly. Hummingbirds will continue their migration when they need to, so don’t worry about how long to leave the feeders out. Your yard will become part of a network of sites that help support these amazing migrants as they travel between their breeding and wintering grounds. If you build it, they will come!



One of the most tragic things that can happen to a wild bird after a long migratory flight is to land at what seems to be a safe spot, only to be caught by a roaming cat. Cats are estimated to kill 1.3 to 4 billion birds in the United States and 100 to 350 million birds a year in Canada. Keep cats indoors if possible, but if you own one that insists on being outside there are many creative options for outdoor enclosures.



Many birds migrate at night, using natural light sources and instinct for navigation. Migrating birds are drawn to and disoriented by artificial night lighting from buildings and other structures. To avoid bird collisions, encourage your community to turn lights out at night when they’re not needed, and cover windows with curtains or decals to help make them more visible during the day.



The spring and fall are exciting times to observe and celebrate birds. Hundreds of International Migratory Bird Day events are offered across the Western Hemisphere to greet birds along their journey and welcome them back. To find an event close to you or add one of your own, visit the events section at Talk to your local bird club or Audubon chapter to see if there are any migration counts in your area, like the North American Migration Count. Once you’ve discovered your local migration sites, you might want to find out if you can volunteer to help protect or maintain these areas. There are also many exciting opportunities to visit well known stopover sites, both nationally and internationally. You’ll never forget the spectacle of a spring day on the Copper River Delta, along the Gulf Coast, or at Point Pelee, or the fall congregations at Cape May or Panama Bay. Participating in such events helps bring attention to the importance of stopover sites, those places along routes between breeding and wintering grounds that are essential for the survival of migratory birds.