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Why Do Birds Return North After Migrating Southward? Why Don't They Stay Where It's Warm?

February 16, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 155

Actually there are many valid reasons for heading north when it comes time to breed. And not all birds migrate that far from where they were born and raised. In some instances they go no further than a couple of states away, just to find a warmer climate. It doesn't have to be tropical. Basically they follow the best food supply.

Then there are those aviators that venture from east to west in search of warm temperatures, 'easy pickins', and different food sources. Others fly from the coast inland for the same reason. Once in awhile there is what is called an 'irruption'. That is defined as a bird population arriving in a completely different habitat than it normally prefers. For instance, huge flocks of Snowy Owls from the frozen arctic have been known to arrive in a farmer's more southern fields just in time for bugs to emerge from the soil by the thousands. Somehow they sense the opportunity! They stay just long enough to take advantage of the situation, and then they're off!

1. Heat is the enemy of baby birds. That's why mama and papa bird can leave the nest in search of food, even when the springtime temperatures get chilly. Also, while mama bird is incubating her eggs, she uses her 'brood patch' to monitor the temperature of those eggs. The brood patch is a portion of her breast that has no feathers. She will also turn those eggs once a day to make sure they maintain an even internal warmth.

2. Birds like to return "home" to a familiar place to breed after their 'vacation'. Those of our feathered friends that head for warmer locations during the year are most at home where they were born and grew up.Humans have the same response upon returning to familiar stomping grounds.Our happy wanderers are glad to be back!

3. Lots of competition for food and nesting sites from native birds in southern climates. Birds that have adapted to their warmer surroundings through environmental selection processes already know where the best available food supplies are. They also have staked out their own territories with regards to mating and nesting areas. Defense of those territories can be fierce. Our little migrants can have a tough time finding their own 'niche' in which to live while in their vacation homes. After all, they don't put up resort hotels for our backyard birds!

4. They come home just when there is a population explosion of bugs and buds. Nesting material is abundant and their territories are familiar. Spring in the north is a wonderful time to be a bird. There's lots of larvae and creepy crawlers just emerging from their long winter's naps. Our familiar residents already have their own territories mapped out. They are prepared to perch on the tallest branch and belt out their mating calls until a proper female, or several, shows up!

5. Daylight gradually increases so that foraging for food becomes easier. Southern climates have the same daylight hours most all season. As the more northern summer days begin to lengthen and different plants produce flowers, fruits and seeds, there is an abundant and varied supply of food from which to choose. Let's face it, we don't like eating the same thing day after day and neither do our birds. Variety is the spice of life!

6. The warmer the environment, the more likely it will harbor abundant parasites and nasty diseases that might harm the un-naturalized northern visitors, should they opt to stay rather than migrate northward. In tropical moist conditions many bacterial infections can multiply rapidly. Any parasite population tends to explode when it is warmer all the time as well. The cooler temperatures in the northernmost areas tend to interrupt that infectious and parasitic cycle just long enough for our migrants to stay ahead of them. Our summers seem to be less 'tropical' in nature, even though they can get fairly warm at times!

How do birds navigate at night, or at all for that matter? How do they know where to fly to get home? Some possess a small area in their brain that responds to magnetic signals emanating from the earth. Other birds follow flyways that have been established over millennia, and which have also been genetically programmed into their behavior. Some recognize geographical landmarks as they soar along, high enough to use thermals, tailwinds and updrafts to give them a respite during their long flights.

Still others of our feathered friends use the sun and/or stars by which to find their way to and from their destinations. Don't let that little tiny brain fool you. It is jam-packed with all kinds of built-in survival tactics, the extent of which I suspect we are just now beginning to comprehend.

Researchers continue to tag and monitor migrating birds to study their routes and the dangers they may face along the way. Those perils now include giant wind turbines, towers, excessively-lit buildings, tall buildings themselves, aircraft and automobiles, predatory birds, loss of rest stops along the way and more.

The Air Force has a bird collision plan in place, and radars are being developed to indicate when migrating flocks of birds are near airports. The most danger is during takeoffs and landings.

In addition, major cities have adopted or are in the process of adopting new building specifications that include glass with different reflection interrupting patterns built in. Glass is a huge enemy of birds. They don't 'see' glass, they see the reflected surroundings such as trees and sky. That's why so many die from collisions with windows.

There is also a program called Fatal Light Awareness, or F.L.A.P. Owners and landlords of tall buildings in more and more major cities have agreed to dowse all the extraneous lighting in and outside of structures such as office buildings during migratory seasons. This program does not sacrifice the safety of humans, but it does save the owners thousands of dollars yearly. It also saves many thousands of birds from being confused by these unnecessary lights. Just like moths around an outdoor light, birds tend to circle until they are exhausted and fall to their deaths.

It is estimated that a staggering ONE BILLION birds never complete their journeys. A sad fact that thankfully is being addressed by increasing numbers of larger cities and universities. Research continues to help our little flyers have a better chance to 'make it back home'.  

My name is Connie Smith, and I have been watching and feeding backyard birds for over 35 years. Please visit my website at: where you will find an awesome selection of quality handcrafted reclaimed barnwood bird houses and feeders, as well as lots for information about wild birds. First time ordering? Receive 10% off your order. Just enter code at checkout: FTTEN

Source: EzineArticles
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Birds Return North


Migrating Southward


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