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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Question about Migration

Following my most recent posting, I received a question regarding birds that migrate through New York City.

First, I apologize to anyone who posts a question if their comment does not appear on the blog right away. When I am out of town I don't always check my blog. Since I've been forced by spammers to moderate all incoming comments, I need to manually check all incoming comments, then decide to "Publish" or "Reject".

Marie asked, "...don't the birds have to stop, to rest, eat, sleep, before they reach the Gulf of Mexico? I keep trying to incorporate bird-friendly plants into my rooftop gardens but perhaps I am mistaken in thinking that many of the them rest in the city?"

Most birds, with a few exceptions, do need to stop, rest and refuel at various points along their migration route. It is for that reason that urban parks, backyard gardens and roof gardens are so important to these animals. Renewed interest in roof gardens is great on many levels, from moderating urban heat island effects to creating oases for migrating birds. I hope I didn't give the impression that migratory species don't rely on NYC parks and gardens for help. They certainly do. Marie and anyone else designing gardens for wildlife shouldn't change their sales pitches, birds can always use our help.

Biologist Scott Weidensaul wrote a great book entitled, "Living on the Wind, Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds." He explains and follows the routes that some of these long distance migrants make twice a year. A large percentage of the neotropic songbirds that we see in the northeast are trans-Gulf migrants, which means that the non-stop portion of their flight is between the Yucatan Peninsula and the coast of Louisiana. Some Blackpoll Warblers will fly for 40-50 hours over the western Atlantic Ocean on their southbound journey. Many, however, stick close to the coast and can be seen in our local parks during migration. A contender for the "Most Incredible Fall Migration by a Bird" Award is a large shorebird called the Bar-tailed Godwit. They will fly from their nesting grounds in Alaska to their wintering grounds in New Zealand, a flight that can easily last 4 to 5 days, without resting! They can't swim, so stopping for a dip in the Pacific Ocean would result in drowning. In my warped mind, I imagine a family of godwits heading south, with one juvenile, smart-assed godwit at the back of the flock making his first trip. He might be sounding a lot like Bart Simpson - "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet ..."

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Marie said...

Thank you. I know many of the people who read your blog are seasoned birders, so I appreciate the explanation. Quite amazing. And I thought the direct plane- flight to Cape Town was long, and I'm not doing the flying! And thanks for the book recommendation. And I promise not to double-comment again. Oy.

Pamela said...

beyond my imagination - that flight.

Migration in full swing here -- although I haven't had much opportunity to get out and about.

Local group did an all day on Saturday - but I had company from Arizona.

I hope to be able to do more birding when I retire.

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