Making Discoveries and Connections in a Time of Migrations

There’s much to celebrate, and still much we need to understand.
An American Woodcock pokes its long bill into the brown earth beneath a shrub in a city park. Out of focus, behind the park's wrought iron fence, are pedestrians and vehicles.
An American Woodcock forages in Bryant Park, New York City. Photo: François Portmann

It’s mid-March in New York City, a time we at Audubon fondly refer to as “timberdoodle season.” American Woodcocks are among the many spring migrants beginning to move through, sending us into parks and cemeteries to peer under bushes for the skulky little birds. Colleagues post exuberant sightings to our workplace Slack—plus one video of a bird bobbing to the tune of “Tequila.”

At the same time, another migration is playing out across the globe, where some 3 million people have fled Ukraine in less than three weeks.* Those migrants, mostly women and children, took flight for neighboring countries to escape a horrific war. They are among the more than 82 million people worldwide who, according to the United Nations, have been forcibly displaced from their homes. As María Paula Rubiano­ A.­ writes, these people—“like birds whose habitats have become inhospitable”—don’t migrate by choice.

When we first set out to create a special issue about migration, this shared experience seemed an essential point to make, even as we celebrated­ the wonder of the phenomenon. And it is wonderful. Since humans first began observing these rhythms, we’ve gained astonishing insights into how and why birds migrate. Through efforts like the Migratory Bird Initiative and Bird Genoscape Project, scientists aim to learn even more.

We’ve gained astonishing insights into how and why birds migrate.

We’ve also sought to illuminate points of connection between human choices and avian journeys, for better or worse. Here in New York City, woodcocks become some of spring’s earliest window-strike victims, but programs like Lights Out can help—and so can actions taken at home. Perhaps the most consequential threat to birdlife is climate change, which alters habitat and the finely tuned cycles of migration. But potential solutions are not without risks—including birds’ own displacement.

Probing the ties that bind people and birds can lead to difficult conversations. We pledge to navigate those bravely and with care. That’s why we’re proud to have been nominated for a National Magazine Award for “What Do We Do About John James Audubon?” by J. Drew Lanham (Spring 2021). And for the fourth year in a row, Audubon got a nod for General Excellence—the highest honor magazines can receive for serving readers with content that’s meaningful and useful. We’ll continue to do just that, every season.

*Since this issue went to press, the number of refugees who have fled Ukraine has risen to 4.7 million, according to the United Nations.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2022 issue as “Migration Season.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.