World Migratory Bird Day

There are so very many birds which migrate in order to find the optimum conditions to breed and feed. Just a few on the list are: Geese, Flycatchers, Warblers, Orioles, Swallows, Cranes, Terns, Swans, Plovers, Harriers and Thrush. In the Northern Hemisphere birds migrate northwards in the Spring to take advantage of the burgeoning population of insects and to find the best nesting sites. Literally hundreds of species migrate and one must ask why such distances, often thousands of kilometers, must be travelled incurring huge feats of stamina and much danger along the way. Certainly, birds travelling from their tropical wintering grounds manage to raise more young than those birds that remain at home, closer to the Equator, so this could be one important reason for the journeys.

It is not known why some birds migrate and others do not. For centuries the owners of caged birds have noticed a restlessness that overcomes their birds in Spring and Fall with the birds fluttering to one side of their cage – known as ‘zugunruhe’ meaning ‘migratory restlessness’.

Birds migrate using a variety of skills. Scientists believe they use the earth’s magnetic field, they are also able to gain a compass direction from the sun and the stars and of course they use landmarks. Furthermore, there is evidence that they use their sense of smell to help guide them on their long journeys. It must be noted that although usually seen in flocks, some birds manage their first journey all alone with no help from others in their species.

Geese are often noticed far from their original home or en route, in their traditional V type formation. One such bird is the Egyptian Goose pictured below thanks to Scott Berglund.

The Egyptian Goose

These amazing geese are actually a type of shelduck, half goose and half duck. They originated in sub Saharan Africa around the River Nile and in the Middle East. These birds are now found all over the World notably in Israel, Europe, South Africa and North America. These birds mate for life and if their partner dies they will often refuse to mate again.

Canada Geese are often seen travelling in their V shape formation and honking to stay in touch with the other family members in the flock. The groups comprise of 30 – 100 birds usually related and they fly at 40 miles an hour usually at an altitude of about 2,000 feet and they can miraculously travel by day or night. These geese are well known for their migration South from the Arctic in September and October. They relocate for the Winter in the warmer climes of the prairies, meadows, golf courses and parks of the more southern parts of the continent. Once Spring arrives they can be spotted heading back to Alaska, Greenland and Canada to take advantage of the newly emerging population of insects and grubs.

This photo is from the well know film ‘Fly Away Home’

Next time you focus on birds flying by, give a thought to just where they might be going and how they’re going to get there!

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