August 2017

Vol. 45, No. 4

Musings from the Blind Birder: Migration

Martha Steele

One of the greatest wonders associated with birding is the astonishing feat that is long-distance migration. Most birders at some point are likely to ask themselves how a bird born in New England in the spring or summer knows how and where to migrate to its wintering grounds and then find its way back the following year, a pattern to be repeated year after year. It is as if I get set with Alvin and embark on a trip from my house in Arlington, Massachusetts, to my winter haven in Costa Rica, all without ever having traveled that route and without asking a single person (or consulting a GPS device) for any help or direction along the way. Imagine us trying to use the sun, the stars, the earth’s magnetic field, and other landmarks or information to complete our journey.

It is well worth pausing to contemplate the migratory abilities of the birds we see through our binoculars or scopes every spring and fall. As you receive this issue of Bird Observer, the fall migration has already started, primarily composed of shorebirds moving through New England. When you look at a Red Knot through your scope, think of the fact that it is one of the longest-distance migrants of any bird species, traveling about 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago off the southernmost tip of South America. Better understanding of migratory routes for all birds, including the Red Knot, has led to enhanced conservation efforts to preserve critical stopover sites for the birds, such as those used by Red Knot and other shorebirds in the Delaware Bay region.

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