Current Nature: The Magic of Bird Migration

Libby Buck, Conservation Science and Land Steward at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation •

4 Black capped Chicadee by banding nets
A black-capped chickadee extracted from the mist net.

If you're teetering on the edge of diving into the birding world, now's the perfect moment to spread your wings and join the flock. It's spring migration season, and it's like a bird bonanza right at your doorstep. From tiny warblers flitting among the branches to impressive raptors gliding overhead and elegant shorebirds foraging at low tide, there's a spectacle for everyone. And with birds in constant motion day and night, there's always a chance of spotting a delightful surprise!

Did you realize that while we sleep, millions of birds take to the skies, riding favorable winds under the cloak of night? On some evenings, over 400 million birds embark on their nocturnal journeys, using the stars and Earth's magnetic field as navigational aids. This fascinating insight comes from BirdCast, a collaborative effort among researchers from The Cornell Lab, Colorado State University, and UMass Amherst. BirdCast ingeniously repurposes weather radar technology to forecast bird migrations, turning what was once discarded data into valuable birdwatching insights.

1 Bird Cast prediction for 5 15 24

Understanding the peak periods of bird migration is crucial, especially since many birds traverse vast distances under the cover of darkness. Excessive lighting can disorient these travelers, endangering their journey. Initiatives like the National Audubon Society's "Lights Out Program" aim to mitigate this by reducing light pollution and ensuring safer travels for our feathered friends. Organizations like Nantucket Lights locally advocate for dark skies to protect migratory birds. Turning off unnecessary lights during peak migration can significantly safeguard these traveling birds.

Nantucket plays a pivotal role in the migration of numerous bird species during spring and fall. Despite its importance, much about the island's avian visitors still remains a mystery. The Linda Loring Nature Foundation (LLNF) has proactively established a federally permitted bird banding station to study the migration patterns of songbirds. This involves capturing birds using nets and affixing uniquely coded metal rings around their legs for identification. Through this process, researchers like LLNF’s master bird bander, Libby Buck, gather valuable data on migration routes, population dynamics, fitness levels, and lifespans. Each captured bird unveils more information about these winged travelers, keeping our curiosity piqued with every banding session. LLNF will continually update this project and hopes to host public events soon.

5 Yellow Warbler with new band

Are you ready to start birdwatching? Luckily, Nantucket offers many opportunities suitable for all skill levels. The Linda Loring Nature Foundation hosts free birding field trips every Wednesday, led by seasoned guides who know all the hotspots. Egan Maritime, in collaboration with Linda Loring Nature Foundation and Nantucket Conservation Foundation, provides birding events at Folger's Marsh, while the Maria Mitchell Association offers a variety of birding trips as well. The Sunday Morning Bird Club convenes year-round every week at 8 am at Nantucket High School, ensuring that there's always a chance to connect with fellow community birders.

By participating in conservation efforts, joining educational outings, or simply turning off unnecessary lights during migration periods, each of us can play a part in safeguarding these migratory birds. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your binoculars and dive into the captivating world of migration on Nantucket. Every day brings new surprises as we eagerly await the arrival of our migrant birds.

3 Libby Buck wing measurement

Disclaimer: *All bird bandings are conducted under a federally authorized Bird Banding Permit issued by USGS Bird Banding Lab.*

Stay tuned for more editions of Current Nature, a bi-weekly column featuring seasonal topics, natural history information, and advice on the outdoors from the staff at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation.

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current Opinion