Bird Migration in NY
by Norman E. Wolfe
Honk, Honk, Honk ... you hear it first and look up into the sky to see a "V" of Canada geese flying overhead. It may be spring or fall. The annual migration has begun.
Each spring birds head north�some to the northern reaches of Canada. In fall they reverse directions and head south to overwinter along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to the northern part of Florida. Most congregate in the Chesapeake Bay region. Mid-way between these summer and winter nesting grounds lies Central and Western New York, part of the Atlantic Flyway.
That�s why in early April and again in October, we hear the honking and watch places like Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Beaver Lake Nature Center, and Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area fill with thousands of birds. Waterfowl like the Canada geese rest on the ponds, lakes, and swamps and feed during the day on nearby grasslands and winter wheat sprouts in spring fields or left over grain crops from the fall harvest.
Geese, blackbirds, warblers, and others�their times may be different but their purpose is similar. Males often arrive first in spring to establish and defend good territory. Then the females come to choose their territory to rear their young. Territory limits breeding numbers and determines nesting success.
Canada geese* are our noisiest migrators but by far aren�t the only ones. Robins*, hawks*, blackbirds, and swallows migrate during daylight hours. Wrens, vireos, woodpeckers*, and warblers migrate at night. Ducks, geese, loons, and shorebirds migrate day and night. Migratory distances vary from a few miles to 11,000 miles. Even bats and some butterflies migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles.
No one knows what originally caused birds to migrate. Theories abound including glacial surges, overcrowding in tropical areas, and others. Today, migration is a built-in behavior driven by internal and external stimuli. These include length of day, temperature, food availability, other birds, fat deposition, hormone secretions, and the biological urge to breed.
Regardless of the reason, migration creates a spectacle to behold. And, in Central and Western New York, we hold ring-side seats.
*not all of these birds migrate
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