Birds of a feather, stick together

All about bird migration this fall

Bird migration is in full swing as November weather (finally) hits Texas. There is lots to know about these feathered friends and their journey south, and more so what you can do to help them. 

The biggest question that comes to mind when thinking about migration; why do birds migrate? Birds migrate for a variety of reasons, the most driving of those factors being the search for food. In warmer climates, there tends to be more food available for the taking. So, staying in dry, or cold environments where there is little food available is not necessarily conducive to survival.

More than 330 species of birds migrate every year, which gives it a huge impact on our ecological societies every year. Birds are a source of pest control, they serve as pollinators, and are food sources for other wildlife. Their migration patterns may affect other wildlife and not just the bird population. 

There are several different paths that birds take when migrating, but for the purpose of Texas, they will stick with one: the central flyway. The central flyway goes from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to the tundras of Canada. Some of the birds that use the central flyway during this time are the Chuck-will’s-widow, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, and Mourning Warbler. Most birds that migrate do so in groups, this is in part to protect against predators. The more birds there are, the more difficult it is for predators to pick out one from the group to prey on. 

The time to migrate is initiated internally in the bird. Birds migrate both in the morning and at night depending on the species. In fact, birds who migrate at night are completely dependent upon the stars for navigation. There is evidence to suggest, in addition, that birds may interpret their exact longitude and latitude based off of the stars. 

The time to migrate is also coordinated with the seasons. Birds are always trying to stay somewhere warmer, where vegetation and food is abundant. So, while summers in the arctic may be plentiful, once that first snow hits, birds start heading south. 

There are a lot of factors that play into bird migration, and one of those is the human factor. Humans, now more than ever, play a big role in the success of bird migrations. Humans have contributed to great habitat loss and destruction over the culmination of several years. The habitat loss these birds are facing prevents them from having a place to find food, nest, and reproduce, which is dangerous to said populations of birds. Another human factor that affects bird migration is: lights. Lights attract and confuse birds, especially as they fly over large cities and urban areas. Recently a movement was started in Texas called “Lights Out Texas.” The movement encourages those who can to turn out all non-essential lights between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. between the time of Aug. 15 and Nov. 30. 

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