Entering the agenda for October 21, 2021: “I saw my first flock of migrating ducks on a pond.”
The herd, which came from the north, landed on the pond due to a change in the weather system. Previously, the weather was from the north but now came from the south. In late October or early November I usually see large flocks of geese and ducks migrating south.
Looking through the old logs, I discovered that some geese were still migrating in December 2008. Diary entry for December 20, 2008, âDuring the night, seven inches of snow fell. As we shoveled our march, I heard flocks of geese heading south.
With the temperature well below freezing and snow on the ground, I couldn’t believe the flocks of geese were still heading south. However, I was sure they were not local geese. Over the next two hours, I saw and heard three more flocks of geese flying high and fast.
Heavy snow prevented me from seeing a fourth herd, however, I could hear them.
The migration of birds is one of the many wonders of nature. Our word migration comes from the Latin migrare, which means to wander, and comes from Mutare, which is also Latin, which means change.
There are approximately 9,500 species of birds in the world, and almost half of them migrate. In the wild, most bird migrations are seasonal, however, some migrations require a lifetime. Some species of Pacific salmon, which are born in freshwater, travel to the ocean, return to the stream where they were born, reproduce, lay their eggs, and die.
There are three types of migration: return migration, in which the animal or bird (Canada goose) returns; re-migration, in which the return journey is made by subsequent generations (monarch butterfly); remoteness migration, in which the movement is one-way, with no intention of return. Man is probably the best example because humans have moved from one country to another.
The longest migratory bird is the arctic tern, which nests as far north as there is land. Nests have been found just seven and a half degrees from the North Pole. The arctic tern nesting season begins around mid-June. After raising the young, towards the end of August, the whole family begins a migration to Antarctica.
A few months later, we find them at the edge of the Antarctic continent: a distance of 11,000 miles. Arctic terns spend about 14 weeks at their Arctic nesting site, two weeks longer than they spend in Antarctica. This allows 20 weeks to complete their 22,000 mile migration of 11,000 miles each way. Mathematically, arctic terns have to travel 150 miles in a straight line every day, however, that number could be doubled due to their zigzag flight in search of food.
The arctic tern sees more hours of daylight and sunshine than any other animal on earth. At their nesting site to the north, the midnight sun has already appeared before the birds arrive and never sets during their entire stay.
During the two months spent in Antarctica, the birds do not see a sunset, and the rest of the time the sun dips very little below the horizon, with continuous daylight. The arctic tern has 24 hours of daylight for at least eight months, and for the other four months it has considerably more daylight than darkness.
The hummingbird migrates up to 3,000 miles, which includes a 500-mile non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. However, the longest non-stop migratory flight goes to bar-tailed godwits, which breed in the arctic tundra. Their migration is a 6,300 mile nonstop flight from the far north of Europe to New Zealand.
The longest migration of an American bird belongs to the American Golden Plovers. In late summer, these birds, which have nested along Alaska’s arctic coast, congregate in Labrador and Newfoundland. Here they begin a non-stop flight to the northern coast of South America, a journey of some 2,500 miles. After reaching Brazil in South America, Golden Plovers make another long flight through the vast Amazon Basin, arriving at their main wintering grounds in the Argentine pampas.
Not all birds migrate a great distance. For example, our common ravens that nest in Pennsylvania will move south for the winter. They are replaced by crows from the north that migrate to Pennsylvania, where they overwinter. Sometimes these northern crows form large herds and become a nuisance in many cities.
Every year in early March I knew I would get a call from Eldon York, who lived on Armenia Mountain, telling me he had seen a woodcock. The woodcock would be seen in a spring seep, where the snow had melted. Ray Berry, who also lived on Armenia Mountain, called me when he heard his first woodcock paving of the year. Ray also enjoyed watching woodcock on their mating flights.
Eldon and Ray are now deceased, and I miss their calls. As hunters see woodcock frequently in October, their migration is difficult to determine exactly when it begins. These woodcock usually arrive around the beginning of April after the ground thaws and leave around the end of October after the ground has frozen.
Yes, bird migration is one of the wonders of nature, the one that has always stirred blood in us humans.
Bill Bower is a retired Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife officer. Read his blog and listen to his outdoor podcasts at www.onemaningreen.com.