Get out your binoculars—birds are making their annual trek north
Daffodils, cherry blossoms and tulips aren't the only things brightening up the thawing landscape now that spring is nearly here. Spring begins March 20. Right now, dozens of species of birds have left their winter homes in the south and are embarking on their annual journey north as part of spring migration. In the coming weeks, even more will spread their wings and follow the same route their ancestors once did.
Spring is a particularly wonderful time for bird watching, Timothy Guida, a research technician at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, told Smithsonian.com.
"During the spring, the males have on their beautiful plumage to attract mates," he says. "So you'll see birds at their most vibrant."
Another bonus to spring migration is that it occurs as a mass movement. It takes place over a shorter timeframe than its fall counterpart, since birds are anxious to reach their breeding grounds and begin mating.
"During the fall, the timespan for migration is much broader, since birds typically start leaving once the temperature drops and there's a lack of food," says Guida. "But in the spring, you'll see more of a blitz over the span of several weeks, since timing is more imperative for birds to begin reproducing and raising young."
Birds already on their epic odyssey include pectoral sandpipers, great egrets, ospreys, western kingbirds, scissor-tailed flycatchers and brown thrashers, according to a report published by BirdCast, a subsection of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And birds aren't the only species in migration mode. Monarch butterflies are also leaving their winter homes for the north.
With all the diversity to be seen among spring migrators, you might worry about how to make the most of your bird watching excursion. "My advice is to not stress out by trying to see everything at once, but instead focus on one or two species and see if you can identify them," Guida says. "I think people know more about birds than they realize. By comparing the birds you're seeing to the ones you already know, you can start piecing everything together by color or size and develop birding skills that way."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Most animals do not migrate. Why do birds migrate?
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