Bird Migration: Help Track Migratory Birds
The sight of thousands of migratory birds soaring overhead or circling for a landing at a stopover site is a symbol of wildlife at its best and freedom in action. Yet that symbol is in jeopardy.
Scientists have noted and studied the decline in the numbers of migratory bird species for several decades, and two likely reasons have emerged as the greatest threats to their survival: destruction of the tropical forests where many birds spend the winter, and disruption of their breeding and stopover habitats, especially coastal areas. Fifty percent of the total US population now lives within 50 miles of a coastal area, and that number is projected to rise to 60 percent by 2010, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. This encroachment by humans, along with rising sea levels and coastal erosion, are a serious threat to migratory birds.
Other reasons for the decline of migratory birds include hazards encountered during migration, such as:
These factors are estimated to reduce by half all the birds that head south for the winter. Yet another danger is exposure to pesticides, which can cause death as well as reproductive problems, both of which reduce bird populations. Pesticide contamination is generally worse in Latin America, where many migratory birds make their winter homes, than in more northern areas.
Every year, millions of birds migrate in search of a more abundant food supply and to breed, and then turn around and make the trip back. For some the roundtrip is only a few hundred miles; black-capped vireos, painted buntings, and gray catbirds fall into this category. For others, the entire journey spans 13,000 to 20,000 miles or more. Common nighthawks, purple martins, cliff swallows, and scarlet tanagers winter in South America and log in miles at the lower end of this range, while the champion of migratory birds, the Arctic Tern, travels 22,000 miles or more from its North Pole summer home to winter near the South Pole.
But short or long, the number of migratory birds making these treks is dwindling, and the numbers will continue to decline unless we learn more about their migratory habits and help ensure they have a healthy environment in which to breed and live. Various state, federal, and public nonprofit organizations are dedicated to tracking and preserving migratory bird populations. And they can use your help - for a day, a week, or longer.
I Did This!
If you want to help track migratory birds on your vacation, plan an autumn or spring getaway. Many of the organizations that offer volunteer opportunities with migratory birds do not provide accommodations, so you will need to make separate arrangements. Some groups concerned with the welfare of migratory bird populations are listed here. Contact them for specific details:
"Free as a bird" should not just be an expression; it should be a guarantee for the millions of migratory birds that grace our skies and our planet. On your next vacation, you could help make that guarantee a reality.
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