The New PBS Nature Special Highlights Epic Shorebird Migrations

“Flyways” calls attention to avian voyages and the challenges birds face.

Every spring and fall, millions of people pause to watch beloved species of birds arrive and depart during their seasonal migrations. For millions of Americans, American Robins mark the arrival of spring, Common Loons in their dazzling black-and-white summer plumage dive and call across Northern lakes, and noisy Snow Geese fly south, signaling the onset of fall. Those of us who love birds delight in these annual migrations – but what happens to these seasonal visitors when they travel past our homes and communities?

A new special from the PBS series Nature will highlight some of the more spectacular migrations of bird species around the world. Nature: Flyways, which airs February 7 and will be free for streaming on the PBS site, spotlights the migrations of Hudsonian Godwits in the Americas, Far Eastern Curlews in Asia, and Red Knots in Europe. These birds, like so many of our familiar migratory species highlighted in Audubon’s Bird Migration Explorer, travel hundreds or even thousands of miles every year.

But the PBS special doesn’t only highlight the epic scope of these avian voyages. Migratory birds are encountering unprecedented challenges due to habitat loss and climate change. Species that once were reliable seasonal residents are shifting their ranges as the climate warms and habitats are harder to come by, and not all of their new homes have what they need to thrive.

It’s an unsettling phenomenon Audubon scientists and partners have documented over  decades. If we are to help these species – and protect the larger ecosystems that we all depend on – we need to invest in more than just our own nation’s conservation efforts. As Nature: Flyways shows, the whole migration path needs to be taken into account. If one chain in the link breaks, it all falls apart.

Fortunately, there’s something we can do to help here in the United States. The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) is a hugely important, long-running success story that funds projects throughout the Western Hemisphere that conserve flyway habitat for migratory birds. For example, NMBCA grant funding has helped to conserve Hudsonian Godwits on their wintering grounds in Chile  and advance bird-friendly sugarcane production in the Cauca Valley of Colombia to protect the wintering grounds of Lesser Yellowlegs. The program is now up for renewal, and Congress is currently considering a bill that would help expand available funding for the NMBCA and make updates to the program to enhance its impact. It’s a common-sense bill with bipartisan support – but it needs our help to move forward.

More than half of the bird species in the U.S. migrate to Latin America and the Caribbean. Over 90 million Americans enjoy and engage in bird watching in some form, and our elected leaders need to hear that we support investing in hemispheric efforts that provide resources for the species that we love, and the communities that share the same habitat. As Nature: Flyways shows, these migration paths are global ecological networks of people, wildlife, and natural spaces that depend on all of us to ensure their survival. Watch the special, and urge your elected leaders to take action for migratory birds by renewing and enhancing the NMBCA.