The Greatest Journey: Celebrating World Migratory Bird Day

By Sanika Shah


Migration is a form of adaptation. Birds migrate to survive.


World Migratory Bird Day is a biannual awareness-raising campaign that takes place each year on the second Saturday in May and October and aims to highlight the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. Global outreach particularly is an effective tool to help educate on the threats faced by migratory birds, and the international cooperation necessary to conserve them.


Birds migrate from areas of decreasing resources to areas with high access to resources. The two primary resources that are sought after is food and nesting locations, without which, populations die out.


The most well-known migrations are those which are long-distance, often including birds that fly north to south and vice versa each year. Swallows, for example, breed in Europe and spend the northern winter period in Africa. But of course, different species migrate in different ways, so there are different types of migration including: altitudinal, partial and moult migration along with the summer and winter migrations.


At least 4000 species of bird are regular migrants, which is about 40 percent of the world’s total, so naturally, some parts of the world have a higher proportion of migrants than others. Northern regions such as Canada and Scandinavia witness vast migration to escape the freezing winters while in tropical regions such as the Amazon Rainforest, fewer species migrate because the weather and food supply are mostly reliable all year round.


Migration patterns are only recently and slowly being understood by scientists, but it is also in these same few decades that human activity has had a disastrous impact on this natural phenomenon. Taking a journey that can stretch for thousands of miles is already incredibly arduous, and in recent years, humans have only added to the birds’ high levels of stress.


One threat to birds that many people may not think about are communication towers and tall buildings. Many species of bird are attracted to the lights in tall buildings, so millions are killed each year in collisions with the structures.


Wind energy is an essential source of clean energy, but unfortunately, despite its incredible positives, the wind turbines are also a death trap for birds.


Any form of pollution is also hazardous. Plastic pollution kills birds who think it is food, while oil spills end up suffocating them.


Worst of all is the effect of climate change to which all birds are vulnerable. Global warming is not only affecting the timing of migration due to a significant change in the Earth’s weather patterns, but is also affecting breeding areas as storms and wildfires create habitat destruction along their migration routes, meaning that the birds cannot find enough food at stopover points resulting in a lack of energy for the next stage of their journey. As a result, a new group called “climate refugee birds” has emerged.


The negatives of human activity have gotten so bad that some migrants have already disappeared. During the passenger pigeon’s migration in North America, the enormous flocks were up to 300-miles long, taking several days to pass, but were hunted to extinction at the turn of the last century.


Hence, it is due to these reasons and so many more, that people around the world are taking action and organising events to educate on the importance of protecting migratory birds (and other wildlife) before it’s too late.


Migratory birds are a great illustration of global interconnectedness, and it is extremely reckless for us to continue on this path destruction.


World Migratory Bird Day: 10th October 2020


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Sanika Shah

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