Little Birds, Big Impact

Who knew a bunch of little birds could be such a big deal?

Growing up as a nature lover in northwest Ohio, with a particular emphasis on birds, I can tell you, here they are a HUGE happening. We are currently in the midst of the annual spring migration for neotropical passerines, a.k.a. pretty songbirds, and so far the colorful creatures have not disappointed. Just take a look at these lists of sightings in Lucas County and Ottawa County where most of the hotspots for warblers, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, tanagers, and so many more are located. Parks and preserves along the western shoreline of Lake Erie in Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, as well as the islands in between, provide the last untainted or revitalized areas of natural habitat needed for migrating songbirds and their preferred sources of food and shelter. In northwest Ohio, places such as Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Maumee Bay State Park, and other parks along the lake; as well as the Toledo Metroparks, especially the unique oak savannas and pine forests of Oak Openings Preserve, serve as essential resting and refueling stops for birds continuing on north to their breeding grounds. Many will stay in this area, however, the majority of warblers – the main reason so many bird enthusiasts come out in droves – are hanging around for only a short time to eat their fill of insects (primarily midges) and chillaxing from the hundreds to thousands of miles they’ve already flown before fording on over the Great Lakes into the boreal forests of Canada.

It is already incredible that any animal can make such a long journey on its own power, but realize that the warblers and other passerines flying back and forth between North and South America every year are tiny birds, making it all the more impressive. The tried and true routes they take every spring and fall are called flyways. They are not necessarily strictly adhered to, as major weather systems and the fluctuating nature of the start and end of seasons can shift migrations east or west, occasionally dramatically, however, for the most part the birds keep taking the same path up and down the globe each year (they return to Central and South America each fall). That path consistently drops them in the wealth of preserved land and resources in northwest Ohio even if their final destination is hundreds of miles farther on from this spot. This is due to the fact that this area is so much richer in the birds’ food and shelter needs thanks to the density of managed parkspace than anywhere else at this latitude in the United States. This is not to say that migrating songbirds will not frequent other parts of the country, because they do, but they do not stop over in anywhere near the same numbers  as they do here. Northwest Ohio has been christened “the Warbler Capital of the World” and with good reason. That reason is because Kim Kaufman, the executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) that puts on the “Biggest Week in American Birding” every year, made a bunch of signs that said that and marketed it well. Still, you can’t knock Kim and her colleagues, which includes her field guide author/world renowned bird celebrity husband Kenn, for labeling the annual migration in such a way (especially considering it is accurate) in order to drum up support for the birds. Not to mention, that as a result, the impact has been beneficial for all: birds, bird lovers, and businesses. It is an amazing natural event that prompts not only birds to flock to this area every year. BSBO may be the organization orchestrating the Biggest Week each year, but they are not the only ones chiming in and adding notes to the grand symphony. The focal point of the festivities is the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, but this wildlife area is only one of many in the area, and all levels of government and private management of natural resources work toward ensuring that the spaces the birds and their fans frequent stay protected and pretty. More land around northwest Ohio, including much in adjoining states, is gradually being fenced off and given back to nature through a variety of programs seeking to add to the already established parks. This is what the Biggest Week in Birding truly exists for: to spread the word (the bird is the word) and encourage people from all around the world to protect their own natural spaces and the animals that inhabit them so that there is more food, shelter, and clean, green, space available for birds and their buddies (and their predators with whom I assume they are less chill) so that they do not need to go out of their way to funnel in to the land of plenty. The irony is that by educating and inspiring people to care and conserve for these birds with the hope of recreating more natural space, BSBO and their associates will be spreading out the passerine migration to its former flyways prior to major human development, which is good, but will cause the birds to disperse more evenly across the country and not be so concentrated. Nonetheless, everyone in northwest Ohio thinks this doom of their festival of the bounty of birds they have now is one worth working towards for the betterment of the birds and other flora and fauna. And of course, it isn’t as if the birds will all disappear from the top left corner of the Buckeye state because those lands will remain rich and ideally will also grow. All of this is contingent upon us as humans doing our part (and then some) to reclaim natural areas and live more within our means. Habitat loss, pollution, and climate change are the most universal threats to all living things, ourselves included, and Cerulean warblers are not about to host a G-20 Summit anytime soon (no thanks to their own high vulnerability to these factors). This means it is on us to clear the air in a few different ways for the betterment of birds, bees, and boys and girls of all ages.

Thanks for reading! If you are interested in checking out any of the celebration of the Biggest Week in American Birding then consult their webpage for more details. While you’re at it, look up the Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s information too. No matter if you are a bird novice or expert, make your way to the marsh someday, whether it be this year or in the future, because it is such a spectacle. In terms of must-see ecological events in America, this surely ranks in the top 10. And of course, whether this is your first time reading my blog or if you’ve caught every one of my posts (Have you tried to go out and meet some new people?) be sure to come back next week for more fun. In the meantime feel free to reach me at monotrememadness@gmail.com and stay cool.

Fly like a neotropical passerine,

Alex

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