Long ago we looked to the sky and dreamt of flying the way birds do; many of us still do. Birds play a large role in our imagination, from the mythological phoenix to the Looney Tunes Roadrunner. They inspire poetry such as Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and cult horror classics like Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. There are even war stories featuring birds, like how birds warned the people of Rome of an imminent attack in 390 B.C. or how birds were used as messengers in both World Wars. Today, there are an estimated 10,000 different species of birds on Earth, all with their own unique adaptations, whistles and mating behaviors.
As winter approaches, many North American birds fly south to find suitable habitat, food and weather and then return in the summer to breed. The Mississippi River is part of the longest migration flyway in the Western Hemisphere, one that begins in the Arctic and ends in Patagonia. The 2,320 miles of Mississippi River are a major highway for 40% of North America’s yearly bird migration. Over 320 different species rely on the River for navigation, food, nesting and fresh water to clean their feathers, including the bird represented on our national seal, the bald eagle.
Birds’ intuition, strength and endurance are amazing. For example, a willow flycatcher was banded in Illinois and just two days later it was recaptured in Veracruz, Mexico! That means if it flew non-stop, it would have flown at roughly 28 miles an hour for 1,367 miles. Amazing! Plus, as its name suggests, it eats flies and other insects—just the kind of bird I want in my back yard!
The willow flycatcher and many other migrating birds need sandbars, marshes and shrubbery for habitat and breeding grounds; unfortunately many of these environments are being destroyed along the Mississippi River. A new study, “State of the Birds”, proves conservation is an effective means to support bird population and diversity. While we are working to protect the wetlands and floodplains these migrating birds call home, we can also take matters into our own hands and welcome them to share the place we call home.
Invite feathered friends home
By making thoughtful choices we can encourage birds to visit our yards. Bird baths and native plants are two of the easiest additions to any yard, simultaneously providing vital habitat while igniting curiosity and delighting young and old alike. The good news is they also benefit your yard since the birds will eat bugs, reducing your need for insecticides (which contribute to poor water quality). In addition, native plants require less watering and maintenance. For a more complete list of ways to create a bird-friendly habitat in your backyard, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife page.
River be with you,
1 Mississippi Campaign Manager
Why do migrating birds fly in a “V” formation?
a. It’s their favorite letter.
b. An “O” was tried out, but they never seemed to get anywhere.
c. There is one bird that likes to always be in front.
d. It’s similar to how race cars draft – aerodynamic theory!
For the answer, visit this month’s featured blog “Pere Marquette State Park: a place to reconnect with nature and work on a great local project!”