The annual phenomenon of bird migration is right around the corner. Each spring, millions and millions of birds move north from their winter range in the tropics to exploit the long summer days we enjoy here in North America.
Arizona is uniquely positioned to witness a lot of this migration activity because of the geographical location of our state. Most of the migratory bird species that summer in western North America spend their winters down in the tropics. Their migration route brings them here from as far south as South America, Central America and Mexico. As these birds move north, their route takes them right over Arizona as they head north towards their summer breeding range.
There are two primary migration behaviors that we see each year. Large birds, such as pelicans, vultures and birds of prey—including eagles, hawks and falcons—migrate during the day. Their broad wings allow them to soar and glide on updrafts and columns of rising, warm air known as thermals. Instead of having to flap their wings hour after hour each day, they simply ride thermals, expending very little energy as they migrate.
Small songbirds, however, typically migrate at night. I like to compare songbird migration to the amount of effort it takes a human being to run a marathon. Trained runners don’t run in the heat of the day in order to avoid heat exhaustion and they try to avoid windy days.
Songbirds time their migration flights to coincide with the coolest time of the day—after the sun has set and when the windy daytime conditions give way to calm, cool nights. This strategy allows songbirds to avoid overheating and helps them to avoid strong headwinds, which would burn a lot of calories that are needed for their whole migration adventure. Examples of songbirds that migrate at night include hummingbirds, sparrows, warblers, vireos, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and many other varieties.
As a bird watcher, it is fun to look for new birds in the yard during migration season. One never knows what kinds of birds may have arrived overnight. Providing a source of food such as sugar water for hummingbirds, suet for insect-eating birds and quality birdseed (with no filler ingredients) for seed-eating birds can be helpful to migratory birds.
It is a fact that many birds use the same migratory routes year after year. Putting a feeder or two in your yard helps migratory birds by offering a dependable, reliable food source they can count on each year as they migrate through this area. This is especially helpful if we encounter any late spring snowstorms. Songbirds expend a tremendous amount of energy and use up a significant portion of their body fat to migrate. Providing nutritious food sources helps them get the energy they need for their long journey ahead. FBN
By Eric Moore
Eric Moore is a life-long birder and is owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird and nature gift store next to Michael’s in the Sprouts shopping center in Varsity Plaza in Flagstaff. Contact him with your questions at 928-774-1110, jaysbirdbarn.com or find us on Facebook.