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Earth Friendly: There's a lot to learn about migratory birds

By By Marie Lester
May 17, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.


Have you ever put out a hummingbird feeder? I have.

It just hung there and no birds ever came to eat. Maybe I put it out at the wrong time. Maybe I let it sit too long and the sugar solution spoiled. Maybe the birds had all the food they needed along their migration route and didn't have a reason to get off path just to come to my house. Darn the luck.

But, a little birdie told me that if you have put out a feeder and birds did come, to please continue to put it out year after year because birds will remember it as a stop along their route.

If the birds arrive at your house after flying all day and the food they expected isn't there, the little guys are sure going to be hungry.

I participated in International Migratory Bird Day at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge a few weeks ago, and I learned a lot about bird migration. I did a presentation about "Angry Birds" the game - I told the students birds were "angry" because of environmental changes and pollution along their migration route.

The kids said "no, the birds are angry because the green pigs stole their golden eggs." Who would have known. Here is a little bit about what else I learned.

Birds migrate for food, shelter, and to find a safe place to breed. Birds store up a little layer of fat prior to migration. They store up just enough to make it from their current location to their destination. Birds travel the same path every year and expect the same water sources to be there, the same motts of trees, basically the same everything.

But human interaction with the environment can significantly change what birds find along their migration path.

Different types of environmental pollution affect bird migration. If water sources are polluted along a bird's migration path, they may have to leave their path to find clean water.

Leaving their path expends some of the birds stored up energy. Air pollution changes the odor in the air, which can cause birds to get lost because they use their sense of smell to navigate.

Birds have a high respiratory rate and are very susceptible to pollution-related illnesses.

Noise pollution from airports, highways and the normal sounds of the city interrupt bird communication and even make it hard for birds to sleep. Light pollution from urban areas makes it hard for birds to see; the "orange glow" around cities makes the stars practically invisible - and birds navigate by the stars, so the poor little guys get lost.

To learn more about birds and see some migratory birds up close and personal, start at The Texas Zoo at 110 Memorial Drive in Victoria.

They have educational programs on a regular schedule and almost always add some bird talk to their programs. Visit texaszoo.org for a schedule of events.

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is another great place. The refuge is about an hour from Victoria and is home to about 400 different bird species throughout the year. They are most famous for their whooping crane breeding area. Find out more about Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Here are some Earth friendly things you can do to protect all the dear little birdies:

•  Put decals on windows so birds don't fly into the clear glass.

•  Put a leash on dogs and cats that live outdoors, or keep animals indoors during bird breeding season.

•  Keep bird feeders clean to prevent disease.

•  Use cloth bags at the store instead of plastic (plastic bags are notorious for becoming litter, which can harm birds).

Turn your yard into a bird paradise.

Marie Lester, is the Environmental Programs Coordinator for the City of Victoria's Environmental Services Department. You may contact her with topic ideas, inspiration, questions and comments at cmlester@victoriatx.org.

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