Humans are fascinated by migration.
Anthropologists, biologists, historians, or just those who are curious about various elements of our amazing world. Bird migration is a particular fascination of mine. I am amazed at the ability of migratory birds to migrate, and the processes involved. How do they know when to leave and where to go? How do they navigate along the way? Why do they bother migrating at all?
Simply stated, migration is the seasonal movement of birds that occurs to allow these birds to access ample food resources. The warblers and tanagers and other species that breed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and head south at the end of summer aren’t doing so just to avoid the cold winter months. Their insect food sources are not available during our winter, so they migrate to the tropical regions where insects and fruits are readily available during that time. Why don’t they just stay in the tropics year-round? Migratory birds share their tropical habitats with all the resident tropical species. The density of birds and therefore the competition for food resources is much lower in the relative expanse of North American temperate forests. These birds have “elbow room” and a better chance of successfully raising their young.
We celebrate World Migratory Bird Day during two seasons each year – spring and fall. In spring we celebrate the return of “our” breeding migrant species in our watershed. In the fall, those in Latin America celebrate the return of “their” birds who were temporarily away raising their young. A recent theme of World Migratory Bird Day was “Birds Connect Our World.” This is true in more ways than you might initially consider. Birding (or bird watching) provides significant economic input wherever birds are found. Birders will travel great distances just to spot a rare species, or they will spend a week or weekend with other birders at an organized festival. And some of us will travel to other countries to see species unique to the tropics and other places around the world. Migratory birds depend on food and shelter – their habitat – on both the breeding and non-breeding sides of their migrations. And healthy habitats with sufficient food resources depend on healthy watersheds. In a sense, birds also connect our watersheds. Not surprisingly, a healthy watershed supports thriving life, including birds and people and everything else that lives among us.
Maryland’s state bird, the Baltimore Oriole, is a great example of a bird that connects us with people in Latin America. During visits to Costa Rica, I have watched Baltimore Orioles feeding side-by-side with tropical species such as Red-legged Honeycreeper, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Golden-hooded Tanager, Rufous Motmot, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Yellow-throated Toucan, Collared Aracari, and more than 15 species of hummingbirds. And there were more of “our” migrant species there – Summer Tanager, Tennessee Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Yellow Warbler to name a few.
If you are reading this, you most likely care deeply about our shared Chesapeake watershed. Keeping our streams and rivers free of pollutants and excess nutrients leads to a healthier Bay, which in turn means more productivity for those working to sustainably harvest the Bay’s natural resources for all our benefit. People in tropical countries may not notice the coming and going of various migratory species, but they depend on the health of their watershed in the same way that we do.
A healthy watershed means more productive lands and waters for the resources they need to not just survive, but to thrive. Supporting fair trade organizations and products is one way to help support those in tropical countries who work to provide food and other products in harmony with a healthy environment. A healthy environment will also help ensure that birds like the Baltimore Oriole continue to thrive in our connected world. All of us need a healthy watershed to thrive, no matter what the season or where we live. Birds are a treasure, and to me are one of the most amazing parts of God’s creation.
Please join us on Thursday, September 7th for a special Learning Lab, "Look Up in the Sky! Spotlight on Migration." I am excited to be able to share more about the marvels and mysteries of bird migration and how birds play a vital role in our personal and shared world.
Birds can thrill us and calm us. Their songs inspire us. They live among us. Birds connect our world, and our watersheds. I give thanks for birds in our world. My prayer is that we continue to work for a healthy Chesapeake Bay and watershed, and support efforts to protect watersheds everywhere “our” birds call home.
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