Migration Mysteries


Have you noticed the daylight hours are waning, nights are cooler, and mornings are turning frosty? Nature has noticed these phenomenons for a number of weeks. Wild birds migrate for a variety of reasons; to escape foul weather, to search for a nesting site, or to locate consistent food sources.

The real mystery of migration is not why birds perform this ritual but how. Just exactly how does a hummingbird that weighs less than 3 dimes travel each year for a total of 5,000 miles, including a 500 mile non-stop journey over the Gulf of Mexico, and arrive within a yard of last year’s home territory? How does an artic tern accomplish an annual, roundtrip of over 22,000 miles from Alaska to Antarctic?

Did you know that long distance, transoceanic migrants can spend over 1000 miles in the air in a single span without landing? How do they flap their wings so long? Do birds migrate at night, using the stars as navigation or during the day using aerial landmarks?

The path during the migration route is fraught with dangers. Some of these natural and unnatural threats are predation, hunting, habitat loss, window collisions, human lighting that confuses navigation, etc.

Wild birds can travel at speeds up to 50 miles per hour, depending on wind conditions, the bird species, and the path of the flight.

Research has documented homing pigeons covering 1,000 miles in just 36 hours. For example, a shearwater, a European sea bird, was removed from its burrow in Wales, flown over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Boston and released. This remarkable bird navigated its way back to the original Wales nesting territory in only 12 days!

There has been much research on how birds accomplish these enormous trips using homing pigeons as the basis of their analysis. Pigeons, like most birds, are active during the daytime. They use the sun’s position in the sky as a form of compass. As the sun’s position changes throughout the day, the pigeon automatically compensates for these changes.

Migration is a fascinating topic for many people. We will continue with our column to inform you about the many aspects of the exodus of wild birds throughout the world.

Enjoy your birds!!

Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve White is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website www.wildbirddepot.com. Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.