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Migratory Bird Day and Flyways!

May 13th: Migratory Bird Day!

This day aims to celebrate all migratory birds and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that protects them. It is one of the oldest wildlife protection laws, and since its enactment in 1918, it has saved millions of birds from depredatory human activities. This year’s theme is “Their Future is Our Future- A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People.” Migratory birds face a number of threats during their long migrations, and key stopover sites for them to refuel and recharge are essential. National Wildlife Refuges make up a large part of those stopover sites along each flyway – so to protect these birds, and ensure successful migrations, we need to continue to protect our public lands and wildlife refuges too.

Flyways! What are they and where to see the best migrations?

 What is a Flyway?

Good question! A flyway is a travel route used by migratory birds and insects.  Birds tend to take predictable routes to get from winter-feeding grounds to their summer breeding grounds and back.  Flyways usually occur along coastlines, major rivers and near mountains, which, is why refuges are so important for birds. A lot of refuges fall on, or near these major migration paths, and provide food, water and habitat for these migrating birds as a safe stopover on their long journeys.

There are four major flyways in the United States:

flyways_final_b_bare

Atlantic Flyway – Along the Atlantic coast

Mississippi Flyway – Along the Mississippi River

Central Flyway – Over the Great Plains, east of the Rocky Mountains

Pacific Flyway – Along the Pacific coast, west of the Rocky Mountains

Here are the best refuges to visit along each flyway! 

Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey

Atlantic Flyway

Cape May NWR | USFWS
Cape May NWR | USFWS

The Jersey Shore isn’t just a destination for beachgoers – but for birds too! After the long trip crossing over Delaware Bay these migrating birds are in need of a nap and a snack. Common species include semi-palmated sandpipers, dunlin, dowitchers, yellowlegs, semi-palmated plovers, red knots, ruddy turnstones, and American avocets.

Migrating waterfowl flock here for the tidal marshes and pools that provide ample food for the last leg of their journey – specifically in the spring when the horseshoe crab spawning season is in full swing. The crab eggs provide this vast variety of shorebirds with the energy they need to fly on!

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Atlantic Flyway

Merritt Island NWR | Michael Wolf
Merritt Island NWR | Michael Wolf

If you’re a birder you must be familiar with Florida as a birding hotspot, and Merritt Island is one of the best to visit. If you visit this bird paradise in the winter months you can usually find roseate spoonbills, blue herons, great egrets, and snowy egrets. You can also see them alongside lots of shorebirds like Wilson’s snipe, killdeer and lesser yellowlegs. This wildlife refuge provides a wide variety of viewing opportunities to see birds, from six different trails to a seven mile Wildlife Drive – you can definitely add a few lifers to your list when you visit here!

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri

Mississippi Flyway

Squaw Creek NWR | USFWS
Squaw Creek NWR | USFWS

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri is the place for birdwatchers hoping to catch a glimpse of migratory flocks. Waterfowl come by the thousands during the fall and spring to rest on their way to their winter or summer homes. During the fall, the area’s wetlands attract as many as 400,000 snow geese, and thousands of white pelicans who share the mud flats and pools with many other varieties of duck.

But it’s not just the large flocks of geese and ducks that make Loess Bluffs special: in late fall and early winter, the area also serves as a winter home for migrating bald eagles! 

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio

Mississippi Flyway

American Redstart | Tim Lenz
American Redstart | Tim Lenz

This special area of Ohio has been deemed the Warbler Capital of the World, and a must see on the Mississippi Flyway. Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, birds bound for Canada stop to refuel here before continuing on their way. In mid May during the peak season, it is not uncommon to see over 15 different warbler species on a single day. Some people have even seen 30! The peak period also happens to coincide with a 10-day festival: The Biggest Week in American Birding – making it the ultimate bird nerd’s delight.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Central Flyway

Bosque del Apache | Marvin De Jong
Bosque del Apache | Marvin De Jong

Bosque del Apache in New Mexico offers amazing bird watching year round, but the area comes especially alive in the fall, when birds, like sandhill cranes flock to the refuge in large numbers. With a close proximity to the Rio Grande, it is an oasis for birds of all kinds, but especially waterfowl and cranes, which flock to the area between early November and mid-February.

If you arrive at Bosque del Apache before sunrise, you will see something truly amazing- the early morning fly-out- when thousands of geese leave the water in search of food from nearby fields. At dusk, the geese fly back to the water, roost and spend the night out of the reach of predators. 

Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota

Central Flyway

Lostwood NWR | Steven Tucker
Lostwood NWR | Steven Tucker

There are many wildlife refuges in North Dakota, but not too many are recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area like Lostwood is. The refuge provides breeding habitat for the Great Plains population of the threatened piping plovers. Waterfowl and other water-dependent birds are commonly found here too, including blue-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, widgeon and lesser scaup. If you can take your eyes (or binoculars) away from waterfowl and piping plover, you might be able to spot a sprague’s pipit in the open grasslands – a rare songbird that performs the longest airborne display of any bird. 

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, California

Pacific Flyway

Tijuana Slough NWR | Rinus Baak
Tijuana Slough NWR | Rinus Baak

Located in the most southwestern corner of the U.S., this stopover in the Pacific Flyway is one of the most important for birds. As one of southern California’s largest remaining salt marshes that doesn’t have a road or railroad running through it, more than 370 species of birds have been sighted here. You can hope to spot the federally endangered California least tern, light-footed clapper rail, and least Bell’s vireo here. 

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Pacific Flyway

Malheur NWR | Barbara Wheeler
Malheur NWR | Barbara Wheeler

A northern stopover of the Pacific Flyway in Oregon, Malheur hosts more than 320 bird species. Population numbers of the migrating shorebirds have been documented at such high levels- it has been qualified as a Regional Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve. The refuge also supports over 20% of the Oregon population of breeding greater sandhill cranes. American white pelicans, northern pintails and white-fronted, greater and lesser sandhill cranes and tundra swans are the most consistent visitors to this refuge during the spring and fall migration periods, but with its abundant water and food you never know what other visitors you might see in this flyway refuge! 

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2017/05/migratory-bird-day-and-flyways/

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