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Migration – It’s No Vacation! Discovering Nature

Published: 08/15/2011 by by

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Whether it is the scolding call of the Blue Jay or the piercing cry of the Red Tail hawk, every Canadian is familiar with the songs of local birds during the spring and summer. Yet when the leaves begin to fall and the mornings become dusted with frost, many of our feathered friends begin their annual fall migration. Unlike us, who stay and brave the winter, most Canadian birds journey to the tropical destinations. Wonderful, beautiful locations we only dream of visiting. It gives the reference “bird-brain” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

Canada is home to over 400 species of birds and almost 90 per cent of these are migratory, travelling to warmer climes during the Canadian winters. Migratory birds come to Canada to mate and raise their young during the summer months when temperatures are warm and food is abundant. With the drop in temperature,  food supplies dwindle and migratory birds begin their journey to warmer climates. Chasing the warm weather and food supply by heading south may sound appealling but, let me tell you, migration is no vacation.

The Calliope Hummingbird is a perfect example. Weighing no more than a single M&M candy, not only are these tiny wonders North America’s smallest hummingbirds but they are also the smallest migrating birds in the world. Nesting in south-central British Columbia and southwestern Alberta, Calliope Hummingbirds spend the winters in central Mexico. That is a round-trip of more than 9000 km every year. That is the equivalent of walking from Edmonton, Alberta to Fredericton, New Brunswick and back again!

Flying thousands of kilometers during this amazing voyage, migratory birds often return to the same destinations every year. How do they know when and where to go? The act of migration is not one that is taught. Migration is based on instinct.  As first-class navigators, migratory birds use both biological and environmental cues to ensure they are on the right path including the amount of daylight, the position of the sun, and the presence of landmarks such as mountain ranges and bodies of water.

So next time you see a robin, bluebird or other Canadian resident that migrates south in the winter, give them a salute! After all, the bird you are looking at is about to take off and make one of the most difficult trips that can be made...its annual migratory voyage.  Thankfully they will all be coming back next year to pollinate our flowers and grace our gardens with their beauty and song.

You can help migratory birds by providing habitat for them when they are visiting during our spring/summer.  You can plant native flowers and trees in your garden, try to keep pets from harassing them, provide water sources, put decals on windows to prevent reflections and possible injury, and drive carefully. Anything you can do to help is wonderful but don’t forget to enjoy them when they are here! If you really enjoy bird watching and want to be involved with birds, check out a local bird club or educational facilities like the Inglewood Bird Santuary in Calgary.