Owner, MN Backyard Birds
Bird migration has been studied and observed for thousands of years, but still remains a mystery to many current scientists and researchers who study this annual mass movement of birds. So how does a bird that weighs less than a 16 ounce glass of water fly non-stop, covering thousands of miles, and survive the ultimate challenge of endurance and expenditure of energy?
First we need to look at the different types of bird migration. Minnesota is home to over 300 bird species that are known to be regular or that occur within its borders, with many of them being migratory. For some the migration is just seasonal, from north to south to escape the deep snow and to find reachable food sources. A majority of our colorful songbirds such as orioles, tanagers, vireos and the 20 warbler species found here are known as neo-tropical migrants. This group goes much farther than from region to region or even state to state- some migrate as far away as Central and South America!
Migration is a means of survival. An oriole can’t survive a Minnesota winter due to the conditions and the inability to obtain its food sources. The ability of flight is one of the greatest adaptations in the avian world. Now the same bird can simply take flight to avoid or escape the winter season. One theory suggests that the global climate, or least the climate for many of the species that exist today, was more tolerable long ago. This meant long flight migrations were not necessary for survival. But, as the climate and environment changed in and out of ice ages, birds established these migration routes to escape the climate. Over time birds continued these migration patterns where they would nest and raise young in the north and return to winter in the south. Birds have continued to change their migration patterns and habits as the current environment continues to change across all landscapes due to agriculture, population growth, deforestation and energy consumption. In our lifetimes we might see later or earlier arrival and departure dates for some of our favorite birds.
How do birds prepare for these long flight migrations? As the amount of daylight becomes shorter in the fall, the photoperiod triggers birds to prepare and migrate. The brain releases a chemical that puts birds into a hyperphagic phase to consume food and store it as fat for energy. Many birds can double their body mass just prior to migration. The red knot, a shorebird, is the champion of migration, traveling over 6,000 miles nonstop. To accomplish such a feat it must increase its body weight by 60 percent! To put this into perspective, a 175 pound man would have to consume 46 Big Macs per day for 14 days!
How birds find their way has been a mystery for a long time. The moon and stars were once thought to be a factor. To some degree this is true, but now birds use more than one “guide,” including the earth’s magnetic forces. We still don’t have all the answers, but as new technology becomes available we will get more answers in solving or at least trying to understand this natural wonder.
Besides finding enough food resources prior to migration, birds also have to tend with hazards along the way including windmills, skyscrapers, and guy wires from cell towers. Each year millions of birds die from these hazards, most being from window collisions.
Habitat conservation is critical for many birds like the red knot to have places to rest, recover and refuel. Our National Wildlife Refuge system was created on these principles, primarily for waterfowl and other water birds. By creating a bird friendly yard that provides food, water, shelter and place to nest, you can create a place of refuge for our feathered friends.
Judd Brink is the owner of MN Backyard Birds in the Brainerd Lakes Area. MN Backyard Birds provides birdscaping for homeowners and businesses to attract and enjoy more colorful songbirds. The business was recently featured on Kare 11 news with Belinda Jensen and MN Bound with Ron Schara. For more information about birdscaping or a free backyard consultation visit our new website birdminnesota.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.