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Spring’s migratory stories

By Kirsten Carlson, Special Writer

If you ask a fourth-grade classroom to describe a bird, expect to hover for 30 minutes in excitement. If you ask six more fourth-grade classrooms, you’ll discover patterns emerge in their responses. One such pattern that emerged across all classes was the migration of birds. Students know that birds migrate. When asked if all birds migrate or the reasons for migration, then we’ve got a little bit of silence that we need to fill with the stories of migratory birds.

In the latest edition (Spring 2022) of Audubon magazine, Lauren Leffer wrote, “at least 40% of bird species migrate in some form.”
That 40% makes for some interesting stories during the spring and fall in our area, when we can witness many transient travelers and wonder why they take such distant voyages. A simple answer is that, in general, birds migrate to satisfy one or more habitat need, “things” in an organism’s environment required for survival and maintenance of its population. These needs could be the ability to find food, shelter or nesting areas, water for drinking or bathing, space or territory to obtain other needs and to find a mate to reproduce.

In our area, if a bird is not adapted to survive our winter’s temperatures or find appropriate shelter or food, it must travel to areas to fulfill their needs. For some birds, that means they must fly south to the southern United States or further to the forests of South America. For other birds from the far northern regions, migration to our area for the winter is all they require to meet their winter habitat needs.

While on their journeys, birds can face many obstacles as they migrate back and forth. Those that make the return trip, often to the same area from the previous summer, have navigated through storms, avoided deadly window strikes or predators and found appropriate shelter and food and a mate to raise the next generation of world travelers.

There are various ways that we can support their journeys as the birds pass through. We can help by providing natural shelter areas through plantings of native bushes and trees or by leaving snags at safe heights. We can also place feeders with a variety of food choices to support the diverse bird populations that migrate. To avoid window strikes. we can place our feeders less than three feet or more than 30 feet from our dwellings. Additionally, I like to make paper snowflakes to tape on my windows so that birds see the flakes and avoid a collision with the window. I keep them up year-round, and the number of collisions have decreased significantly.

The website https://flap.org/ provides more tips and tricks that we can use to help birds on their journeys as they continue telling their stories.

If you are interested in tracking some of your migratory favorites, think about joining eBird to contribute to their research and data base for birds. You can find more about eBird at https://ebird.org/home.

Finally, the organization Journey North, https://journeynorth.org/, would also invite individuals to contribute to their data collection to track a variety of migratory organisms across the United States.

Regardless of how you would like to contribute your talents to these migratory wonders, remember that all organisms require habitat needs, just like you and me. It is through finding habitat needs and navigating obstacles that their stories can continue for generations to come. Perhaps a migratory songbird, such as the American robin, will allow you to share its home with you. Oh, the stories you could share.

Editor’s note: Kirsten Carlson is a biology teacher at Ivy Tech Community College and the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Oak Heritage Conservancy, a nonprofit that protects more than 1,100 acres of habitat in southeast Indiana. Find more about Oak Heritage Conservancy at www.oakheritageconservancy.org.

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