Spring and fall are the busiest seasons for migrating birds. In spring and summer, they migrate to places where the weather is mild, there are plenty of good places to nest, and there’s a reliable supply of protein-rich food (such as caterpillars) to feed growing chicks. In fall and winter, they fly to places where they can stay nice and warm and there is food for them to eat. Not all birds migrate, but the variety of species that do is wide: birds of prey, ducks, hummingbirds, shorebirds, seabirds, and songbirds.
Like highways in the sky, routes taken by large numbers of birds on their migratory journeys are called flyways. North America’s mountain ranges and coastlines run mostly north-south, and so does its largest river, the Mississippi. These natural features create four main “flyways” that many migrating birds follow. Scientists divide North America into four flyways, as shown in this map.
Migrating land birds that use these flyways after breeding may start their southbound journeys in the far north—Alaska, the Arctic, or northern Canada—or they may take off from somewhere in central or southern Canada or the Lower 48 states. (“Lower 48” means all of the states except Alaska and Hawaii.) The journeys may end somewhere in the Lower 48 or on a Caribbean island, in Mexico, Central America, and beyond—even as far away as the southernmost tip of South America.
Here’s an activity that involves a little geography and introduces you and your children to some birds that could be migrating through your neighborhood. It’s also a fun art project for which you’ll need some colored pencils and drawing paper.
1. With your children, look closely at the map. If they are old enough, ask them to find your state, or find it for them and point to it. Then find the approximate location of your town or city within the state. Use the color coding to figure out which flyway you live in: Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, or Pacific.
2. Here are some common bird species that use each of the four North American flyways. Click on the bird’s name to learn more about it from Audubon’s online bird guide. Use the information about a bird to learn what kind of habitat and food it needs.
Atlantic Flyway: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Thrush, Northern Flicker
Mississippi Flyway: American White Pelican, Sanderling, Bobolink
Central Flyway: Swainson’s Hawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Sandhill Crane
Pacific Flyway: Western Sandpiper, Anna’s Hummingbird, Mallard
3. Read aloud each bird’s information and let them choose which bird in your flyway is most interesting.
4. Ask kids to think about inviting birds to visit your yard or a nearby park or natural area. Their invitation will be a poster that says, “This place is for the birds!” What should the poster show and say to make birds want to come? Focus on what migrating birds need when they stop to rest and eat before continuing their journeys. If birds stay to nest and raise their young, where will they build their nests and what food will they find to feed their babies?
5. Now let children make colorful “This Place Is for the Birds!” posters that tell birds why your neighborhood is a great place to visit or live. Encourage them to incorporate a drawing of birds with the facts about what those birds need in terms of habitat and food.
6. Save and share the posters with family and friends. They could make great window decorations for neighbors (and passing birds) to see! Send a photo of your finished poster to firstname.lastname@example.org, and post it on Twitter using the hashtag #kidsart and tagging @audubonsociety!
7. Keep the interest in birds going by spending time looking out your windows for birds. How many different kinds can you spot? Try to identify each one and make posters for them.
Audubon Adventures is an environmental science curriculum, developed by professional educators, that presents standards-based science content about birds and their habitats. It includes four-page magazines (in PDF format) just for kids with lively content, illustrations, and photographs on a variety of topics. Explore more activities, games, and lessons about birds and nature at the Audubon Adventures website.