The Flying Shingle
Just for the Birds
Celebrating migratory birds - all year long!
by Sharon McInnes
Monday, May 16, 2011
Click for larger photo
Click for larger photo
Rufous hummers migrate from Central America to Gabriola and back every year. ~ Photo by Sharon McInnes

It’s spring! Rufous hummingbirds are busy buzzing around Gabriola feeders, having migrated approximately three thousand kilometres from Central America in an arduous, life-threatening journey that only 15 per cent of hummers survive. Violet-green swallows, also up from Central America, are checking out nesting sites, getting ready to settle down and breed. And white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows are cleaning up the spilled seed under our backyard feeders. We’re also hearing the flute-like ascending notes of Swainson’s thrushes coming from the forests around us. If you’re lucky, you may have already seen a black-headed grosbeak or even a lovely evening grosbeak (recently arrived from Mexico), or yellow warblers flitting among the trees. These birds and over 1,840 other migratory species around the world make remarkable journeys twice a year every year in order to find the best habitat to feed, breed, and raise their young.
Unfortunately, as the human population has increased – dramatically – over the last few hundred years, migration has become more and more perilous for birds all around the world. It is difficult enough in the best of conditions, but as we humans destroy bird habitat through deforestation, land reclamation, mineral extraction, intensive agriculture, the installation of high-voltage power lines and wind turbines, and, in some countries, poaching, the chances of surviving migration become less and less.
Recognising the need to bring the world’s attention to the increasing number of threats facing migratory birds on all continents, the Secretariat of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals initiated World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) in 2006 in Kenya. WMBD is a global commemorative day (a weekend, really) of theme-based activities such as birding tours, festivals, camps, educational activities, and media events designed to raise community awareness of the issues impacting migratory birds all over the earth. Although there has been an International Migratory Bird Day since 1993, this event focuses on the migration of birds only in the Americas. World MBD grew out of the understanding that protecting the habitat of migratory birds requires international cooperation and a coordinated conservation effort along the entire flyway of a species. 
Since its initiation in 2006, the number of countries taking part in World Migratory Bird Day and the level of their participation has grown significantly. This past weekend, highlighting the 2011 theme, “land-use changes from a bird’s-eye view,” thousands of people on every continent took part in hundreds of special events designed to celebrate migratory birds and to educate the public about how the use of land by humans has impacted migration.
In Vancouver, under the auspices of the Stanley Park Ecological Society, Mayor Gregor Robertson proclaimed May 15 “World Migratory Bird Day” on behalf of the City of Vancouver. Flocks of birders convened at Stanley Park to listen to talks by Bird Studies Canada folks and to participate in a ‘birdwalk’ to watch migration in action.
Although World Migratory Bird Day takes place just one weekend a year, the need to protect the habitat of these birds continues all year-long. We can all do our part. Here on Gabriola Island the possibilities are endless: we can feed the rufous hummingbirds visiting from Central America (a ratio of 3.5 water to 1 part white sugar seems to be very popular among hummers); we can plant bird-friendly gardens (then don’t clean them up too much in the fall, so that resident birds have seeds to eat in the winter as well as protection from weather); we can offer fresh water all year long; we can keep cats indoors, preferably all the time but especially in the spring; we can buy only “bird-friendly” paper products and coffee; we can support organisations fighting for habitat preservation by participating in their campaigns and/or providing financial support; and we can become educated about the intricate web of the natural world around us – then teach our children what we’ve learned. And then, every year on the second weekend of May, we can celebrate World Migratory Bird Day with our friends and neighbours here on Gabriola and around the world! 
Sharon is a Gabriola Island resident, amateur birder, owner of The Island Book Shoppe, and author of ‘Up Close & Personal: Confessions of a Backyard Birder’. She welcomes your comments at justforthebirds@gmail.com.

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