The Stealth Parade

Last night, while you slept, this Blackburnian Warbler and a few million of his friends were flying overhead. Photo by Kenn and Kim Kaufman.
Say you’re sitting in your living room and a friend calls to tell you that there’s a big parade coming down your street. You would at least go to the window to look out, right? Well—I’m your friend, and I’m calling to let you know that the parade is out there. It’s outside your window right now.

If you’re anywhere on the North American continent, the spring migration of birds is flowing around you. Above the Arctic Circle you’re still at early stages of the migration, but it’s under way, and at middle latitudes the full flood of migration is about to peak. Literally hundreds of millions of birds are on the move, shifting from wintering grounds to nesting territories, their paths crossing practically every square mile of this continent and the adjacent seas.

For the most part, this massive migration passes unnoticed. Some birds like hawks and cranes and waterfowl travel by day, but the vast majority of smaller birds undertake their journeys at night. Most citizens have no idea that this is happening—that high overhead the night sky is filled with myriads of songbirds, navigating by the stars, traveling from the tropics to the northland. But for those of us in the know, this phenomenon turns every spring morning into a treasure hunt, because the migrants may pause anywhere during the day to rest and feed. A busy city park or a tiny back yard may suddenly reveal something like a Blackburnian Warbler, brilliant orange and black, freshly arrived from wintering grounds in the Andes and en route to spruce forests of Canada. Or a tree at the edge of the parking lot might reveal a flashy Western Tanager or a Rose-breasted Grosbeak or any number of other colorful creatures.

I’ll call back later and tell you more about it, but—just go take a look. The parade is out there now. Believe me, you don’t want to miss it.

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