Column: Migrating birds need stopovers to restThe days are getting shorter, the air is crisp, and the leaves are starting to change. Yes folks, fall is arriving in the Northland.
By: Katie Brey, For the Budgeteer News
The days are getting shorter, the air is crisp, and the leaves are starting to change. Yes folks, fall is arriving in the Northland.
While our human schedules change in the fall, with school resuming and vacation times ending, it is also a time of significant change for our songbird neighbors. It’s time for migration!
Migration is a stressful and dangerous time to be a bird. Scientists estimate up to 85 percent of songbird deaths occur during migration.
Fall migration is especially difficult because many of the birds embarking for southern wintering habitat are young birds, those who hatched this year and don’t have the experience of the thousands of miles the older birds have flown. They are heading into unfamiliar habitat and are facing new predators as well as having to learn new places to find food and shelter!
Most songbirds do the majority of their migration flight time at night. Since our feathered friends don’t have the ability to sweat to reduce their body temperatures, the way we would, during their all-night flight marathons, the cooler temperatures at night help them to be able to cover more distance than if they flew during the day.
However, the amount of energy songbirds use in these marathon sessions means that they need to stop and refuel before the next leg of their trip. The spots where songbirds stop to rest and refuel during migration are given a special name by scientists: stopover sites.
Stopover sites are a special kind of habitat that gives the songbirds the chance to rebuild their energy reserves and let their bodies recover. All a place needs to be a good a stopover site is a food supply (this could be seed, fruiting trees, or an abundance of insects) and lots of shelter for the birds to hide out and rest in without attracting predators.
However, because they are a less visible type of habitat they have not historically received as much attention or
protection as nesting habitats or winter habitats. Stopover sites are being recognized by conservation biologists and policy makers as being critical to the long-term survival of migratory bird populations.
Sadly, because stopover sites are numerous and exist over the whole migration route, they need to be protected in a series of states and even other countries! Coordination of efforts to protect important habitat over large areas like this example is often difficult and time-consuming.
The good news is that if you have a birdfeeder and some trees or shrubs in your yard, you are helping create a potential stopover site!
To create an even better stopover site, there are a number of easy things you can do.
You can provide a variety of food sources for our traveling feathered friends.
Bird feeders with different types of seed are a huge help to hungry songbirds. If you have space, consider planting fruit-bearing trees or shrubs such as the mountain ash in the photo. These trees and shrubs also provide a place for songbirds to rest and hide from predators.
If you want to create a really excellent stopover site, consider putting out a bird bath or other water source. Not only does this give the birds a source of drinking water if needed, but it will also give them the chance to bathe and keep their feathers in better shape.
By providing better habitat for these weary traveling songbirds, not only will you be helping them survive, you will also get a chance to see and enjoy more songbirds in your yard!
It’s a win for you and the wildlife!
For more information on how you can help wildlife, visit www.wildwoodsrehab.org.
Katie Brey is an education and outreach volunteer at Wildwoods, a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth, Minnesota. She has previously worked as a raptor care intern at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center and as a volunteer naturalist at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.