After every winter, birders across the Northern Hemisphere look forward to that very first migratory bird of the year, signaling the beginning of new life, the dawn of spring and the continuation of a natural phenomenon that has taken place for millennia. This year, as the world reels from the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, spring migration offers the solace of bringing visitors when many of us are isolating and staying at home. Saturday, May 9 is World Migratory Bird Day and an excellent opportunity to recognize the Herculean efforts made across the world to ensure these birds find safe harbor along their journeys.
Hundreds of bird species that many of us across the country look forward to each spring spend the majority of their lives south of the continental United States. By working together across North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Audubon, through its International Alliances Program, Boreal Forest Conservation Program, are working with local partners to fulfill our mission of protecting birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. For migratory birds, this cooperation makes all the difference.
Take the Hudsonian Godwit, for example. These globe-trotting shorebirds spend the winter in Bahía Lomas, a globally Important Bird Area in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego. Recently, Chile’s minister of the environment declared the Bahía Lomas wetlands as a new wildlife sanctuary, protecting key habitat on one end of an absolutely incredible migration. From their wintering grounds in the southern tip of South America, Hudsonian Godwits take off on a months-long migration that will carry them to the northernmost reaches of the Western Hemisphere.
Just as international cooperation is necessary to protect these migratory birds, migratory birds are also an important driver of international relationship building. Audubon is working with partners and stakeholders across the hemisphere to make sure birds are protected from their migration’s start to finish. Partnering with scientists, Audubon's Migratory Bird Initiative is consolidating and synthesizing the latest tracking and occurrence data for hundreds of migratory birds to inform effective and strategic international conservation rooted in science. Tracking data, whether it’s from bird banding encounters, genetics or geolocation technology, allows researchers to fill in knowledge gaps as birds like the Hudsonian Godwit move between wintering grounds and breeding grounds. This species in particular stops along marshes and flooded fields in the Great Plains on their way north, but tends to fly nonstop along the Atlantic coast on their south-bound journeys in the fall.
Eventually, if all goes well, the godwits finish their epic northward journey to the shores of Alaska and northern Canada, where they will build nests and breed. Joining the godwits are billions of migratory birds making their way to what's known as the boreal forest, aptly known as North America’s “bird nursery.” The boreal region is a habitat comprised of more than one billion acres of northern forests, wetlands, lakes and rivers that span from the interior of Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland. This landscape offers some of the best-remaining intact habitat for billions of birds in the Western Hemisphere. It also plays an essential role in mitigating climate change, the largest and most ubiquitous threat to birds, because of its capacity to capture and store enormous amounts of carbon.
Conservation of the boreal forest is critical for sustaining the natural phenomenon of migration. Luckily, Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Nations are leading efforts to protect this valuable ecosystem all across Canada, which will contribute to the health of many migratory bird species. To the benefit of birds as well as humans, the Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation and Canadian government worked together to create the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Canada.
No one country alone can protect migratory birds throughout their full annual cycle. International cooperation is a worthy goal in and of itself, but for those of us who care about birds, and the ecosystems that support them, it’s an imperative. Supporting and encouraging joint conservation efforts taking places across thousands of miles is the only way to ensure the birds we all wait for each spring keep making these astounding journeys year after year.
To learn more about Audubon’s International Alliances Program, please visit https://www.audubon.org/conservation/international.
To learn more about Audubon’s Boreal Forest Initiative, please visit https://www.audubon.org/conservation/boreal-forests.
To learn about Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative, please visit www.audubon.org/migration.