Migration is a dangerous journey, and birds that travel hundreds or thousands of miles every year face starvation, predators, habitat loss and other risks that can keep them from returning to their breeding grounds. Conscientious birders, however, can help migrating birds in a number of easy ways, ensuring that their favorite species will always be able to return year after year.
Providing bird-friendly landscaping gives migrating birds an easy place to rest along their journey. Native trees and shrubs offer both food and shelter for migrating birds, and backyard birders who avoid pesticides and insecticides give the birds a high protein food source with various insects. Adding a brush pile to the yard and choosing plants that bloom both in spring and fall will also make a yard more attractive to migrating birds.
2. Keep Bird Feeders Available
It is a common bird feeding myth that putting up feeders during peak migration times will prevent birds from migrating. In fact, bird feeders can provide an easy, convenient way for birds to get the necessary nourishment and energy they need to complete their journeys. Offering high fat foods such as black oil sunflower seeds, peanut butter and suet will give the birds a fantastic energy boost, and keeping up other feeders will attract a diverse flock of migrating birds.
A good source of water is essential for birds to drink and bathe, and backyard birders who have a ready bird bath can ease the thirst of migrating birds. Moving water, such as a dripper, bubbler or fountain is best to get the attention of migrating birds, which can hear the water from great distances. Keeping the water clean will also avoid spreading disease to nests or concentrated migrating flocks.
4. Conserve Habitat
Not only do birds require pristine habitat at both their breeding and wintering grounds, but they also need sufficient stopovers along their migration routes to rest and refuel. Birders who want to help migrating birds will support conservation of diverse habitats throughout the world by donating to conservation organizations, helping restore tropical rainforests and purchasing products such as shade grown coffee that are produced through bird-friendly agriculture.
5. Clean Up Habitats
Participating in local litter cleanups along beaches, rivers, parks and other bird-friendly habitats is a great way to keep birds' resting places safe and suitable. If a litter cleanup is not available, organizing one as a community project or service project for a birding group is an easy and effective way to help migrating birds.
Migrating birds travel long distances, often without a break, before coming to roost hungry and exhausted. When the birds do take a rest, they can be easy prey for outdoor or feral cats or loose dogs. Responsible pet owners will take steps to protect birds from cats and keep dogs on a leash to avoid disturbing migrating birds that need an opportunity to rest and feed in safety. Controlling local feral cat populations and stray dogs can also help keep birds safe.
Millions of birds die each year from window collisions when they are startled while feeding or when they come across a wide window during migration. They cannot tell the difference between the real sky and the sky reflected in a window, and breaking up window reflections with decals, netting or other tactics can minimize the hazards those windows pose to migrating birds.
8. Turn the Lights Off
The bright lights of nighttime city skylines confuse and disorient migrating birds that need to see the stars to follow their migration routes. Many cities now participate in "Lights Out" programs to remove that obstacle during peak migration periods, and birders should encourage their local cities and towns to join in. Turning off or reducing lights in large office complexes, parking lots and industrial centers is crucial to keep from interfering with bird migration.
9. Participate in Bird Surveys
Conservation groups often organize population counts and bird migration censuses to study the migration patterns and success rates of different species. These events may include counting and identifying migrating birds, surveying habitat or banding migratory birds for long term study. Birders can volunteer to participate in these studies or contribute financially to support the work that is needed to fully understand migration and how to best help migrating birds.
10. Be Patient
Tremendous flocks of migrating birds can be pesky and irritating with their gregarious chatter, voracious appetites and indelicate leavings, but birders who are sympathetic to the risks these birds are about to face on their long journeys should be sensitive to any flock's temporary presence. Migration is a special time for both birds and birders, and enjoying and supporting it is the best way birders can help migrating birds.