About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Does the warm weather mean early migration?

Birds that winter in the south don’t exactly know that we are having an early spring. They generally leave the same time each year based on internal circadian rhythms and subtle changes in the sunlight. However once they begin their journey, the weather in the United States can play a big role in how quick they reach their nesting grounds.

When we have unexpected cold fronts in the spring, birds can stop temporarily or even reverse direction to wait for better traveling conditions. And with this yummy spring weather we’re experiencing, the birds may speed up their migration spending less time at their normal pit stops to reach their destination.

Lately there has been a lot of excitement in the air with this crazy weather. I have seen waves of Dark-eyed Juncos stopping briefly at my feeders only to leave the next day on their way further north to their nesting grounds. The chickadees have been conducting battles for territory through song and checking out nesting sites. Bluebirds and other birds have started to carry off mouthful of nesting materials. While robins and cardinals, up before the sun, sing lovely ballads for their mates.

Things seem to be moving much faster than normal and people are curious if the migrating orioles and hummingbirds will show up earlier this year. I usually put my nectar feeders up April 15th and expect to see regular birds visiting by May. But I just checked the migration maps, YIKES!!, they've been sighted in Michigan!

It's still early but I think I'm going to wash up my nectar feeders and put them up today. If you want to check the maps or report the sighting of a bird go to www.hummingbirds.net to check the status of hummingbirds and http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Maps.html for a lot of other spring sightings.

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JosephAlsarraf said...

I have a question do all the birds migrate to the north after winter and why don't they stay in the south if it's cold up there. I hope all the birds don't float away. : )

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

That’s a very good question. In general, it's estimated that of the over 200 species of birds nest in Michigan, about 90 percent migrate to some extent. Whether it’s from the U.P. to mid-Michigan or from our state to Mexico or Central America depends on the bird.

Birds can belong to several groups:

Permanent residents or non-migrating birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Black-Capped Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches, or House Sparrows are common year round residents.

Summer residents like the Ruby-throated hummingbirds, orioles, swallows, or rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive in our northern backyards in the spring, nest during the summer and return south to winter.

Winter residents like Red Breasted Nuthatches and juncos, not seen in our area during the summer, think mid-Michigan is the perfect place to spend the winter.

Transients like the White Throated and White Crowned Sparrows are migratory species that nest farther north than our neighborhoods, but winter farther south and we see them only a few weeks during migration, as they pass through.

Other bird species seen at the feeder year round may also be migratory. While we see American Goldfinch throughout the year, some of the ones we see in the winter may have nested in Canada. And Song Sparrows that breed in Michigan may migrate to the southeastern United States, or may remain a year-round resident.

They are obligate partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. And sometimes circumstances such as a good breeding season followed by poor winter crops can lead to irruptions of bird species not normally seen in our area like the Pine Siskins or Redpoles.

It’s not easy getting every bird’s travel plans straight. For example one of my favorite birds, the Northern Cardinal, has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. During the early days of the expansion, the birds would migrate back south during the winter, but in time they became a year round resident in Michigan.

Migration isn’t an exact journey. Using published literature, bird observer reports, and observations of bird watchers it has been found that many factors like the temperature changes and land development are very likely influencing birds’ migratory patterns and will continue to alter patterns in the future.

JosephAlsarraf said...

Cool thanks for all the info! : )