Nature Connection #14 – Migrating Birds

Oklahoma is a wonderful place to be to observe birds. So many species either live here, or migrate through here, that it is a birder’s paradise. I take for granted that so many types of birds flit through my back yard, stay a few days and then fly on. But there is more to the story. Many of the beautiful back yard birds that we all enjoy seeing actually migrate. And now is the time of year when they are flying back to us.

Some of these migrating birds are called neotropical migratory birds. These particular songbirds, including our state bird, the scissortail flycatcher, summer in North America but spend the winter in Latin and South America as well as the Caribbean. They fly hundreds, if not thousands, of miles each fall, only to turn around and fly it again the following spring.

Throughout their journey, they need food to eat, water to drink and a safe place to spend the night. Sadly, these needs are not always met. The primary culprit is habitat destruction. When fields and forests give way to paved parking lots and housing developments, the birds lose their resting places and their food.

Numbers of these beautiful creatures are plummeting. In the twenty year period from 1980 to 2000,  the Nature Conservancy estimates that, based on bird census figures, populations of wood thrush are down more than 20 percent nationwide; baltimore orioles have declined more than 25 percent; and summer tanagers have dwindled 17 percent.
In “The Color of Spring,” a essay from the Nature Conservancy’s book, A Journey for All Seasons, published in 2000, writer John A. Kinch tells the story of these tropical migrants on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Kinch says, “Each March, songbirds by the tens of millions make the seven-hundred-mile dash across the Gulf of Mexico, some of them alighting in the Louisiana wetlands and woods along the coast after the exhausting journey.” It must be an amazing sight!

He also writes, “The springtime return of neotropical migratory songbirds is an eruption of yellows, blues, reds, and purples: yellow-throated vireo, blue grosbeak, ruby-throated hummingbird and purple martin. Not to mention the painted bunting, cerulean warbler, American redstart, black-throated blue warbler, scarlet tanager . . . colors galore! And with the flashy males breaking into song, suddently the dull spring woods are dull no more.”

This spring, I hope that you will take time to watch for birds at home or in your favorite park or nature area. The bright beautiful plumage and melodic songs of these brids will brighten your day. Visit your local bookstore or library and pick up a bird identification book, or a tape of common bird songs, and learn which of these birds enjoy your favorite areas.

Seeing them reminds me of the unbelievable variety and beauty of the natural world that we all share – and how very connected we are.

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