For Safer Passage: Helping Migratory Birds

Donor Focus: Macy’s Makes an Impact
April 1, 2018
Zoo Update from Connie Morgan
April 1, 2018

Male hooded orioles are brilliantly colored during mating season. Photo by Jamie Pham

A migrant’s life is a perilous one; danger is lurking behind every blind spot. Travel is done at night to avoid detection from predators and the day is spent searching for food in unknown terrain while avoiding foreign obstacles. It’s an almost impossible journey but one that must be carried out year after year.

Driven by instinct, many birds endure one of nature’s most brutal tasks, autumn migration. Millions of birds migrate hundreds to thousands of miles to find the ‘promised land.’

The dark-eyed junco begins its migration in early October, leaving the relative safety of North America’s boreal forests and traveling south to northern Mexico, a trip of roughly 1,000 miles. It’s a relatively short trek for a migratory bird, but it’s quite the road trip for a bird roughly the size of a mouse.

The Swainson’s hawk migration is one of the longest of any North American raptor, traveling an absurd 14,000 miles from the prairies of the US and Canada to southern Argentina. While there, hundreds of thousands will feast on grasshoppers for the next four months.

Unfortunately, man-made problems are making these awe-inspiring journeys more treacherous than ever before.

Unfortunately, man-made problems are making these awe-inspiring journeys more treacherous than ever before. Habitat loss, pesticides, light pollution, and window strikes are taking a toll on migrating birds, but unlike so many other environmental tragedies, we can reverse this trend with just a few simple lifestyle changes.

Buy organic. Insects are the main diet for many bird species. Pesticides used in the farming industry not only eliminate a potential food source but can also poison that source as well.

Plant a bird garden. Sure, that perfect green lawn with a pair of palm trees make your front yard look beautiful, but this “habitat” might as well be a parking lot for most birds. This spring, add some native plants that will provide food and shelter for thousands of migrating birds.

Turn that light off. Light pollution causes several problems for birds. It can affect their navigation, sending them off course during migration. It can even lead to temporary blindness. There is no need to keep that porch light on all night.

Tint your windows. It has been estimated that nearly one billion birds die annually from window strikes—yes, one billion! Birds do not recognize glass as anything other than an opening. Screens, tints, and decals are just some of the things we can do to make our windows more apparent to our feathered friends.

The Audubon Society, Bird Life International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have declared 2018 the Year of the Bird. Let’s dedicate this year to the somber call of the mourning dove, the brilliant plumage of the hooded oriole, and the comical antics of the scrub jay by making the planet safer one backyard at a time.

Mike Maxcy is the Curator of Birds for the Los Angeles Zoo.

At this year’s Wild for the Planet celebration, April 21 through May 18, you can learn how to help our feathered friends, starting in your own backyard! Special bird-themed activities include education stations where you can learn what features make a garden bird-friendly, how to install window decals to prevent bird strikes, the basics of bird watching, and how the Los Angeles Zoo is helping birds here at home and around the world. Join us for a flocking great time!