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It’s In Your Nature: Where do they go?

Eighty percent of North American birds do not remain here for the winter months. The champion long distance migrant is the Arctic tern. It migrates from beyond the Arctic Circle to Antarctic areas and back again each year. A migration of about 20,000 miles.

Another “marathon” bird is the Hudsonian godwit. One monitored godwit flew 9 days without stopping to rest. That bird is of course an exceptional example, but think of a small warbler or flycatcher that flies all night long after “refueling” on insects during the day. It too accomplishes its own marathon flight.

Canada geese somehow anticipate a warm front with southerly breezes providing a tail wind and thousands of flocks take that cue and begin their northward migration on the same day. From one observation point in East Penn Township one March morning, I counted 80 plus flocks of geese pass overhead, both east and west of my position in a one-hour span.

Many migrations are much less demanding and much shorter. Northern juncos that feast at your feeders during a winter snowstorm, probably bred in Canada, northern New York, or in northern New England.

The blue jays that breed in Canada or the northern Appalachians make short migration hops farther south to avoid the difficult search for food in winter. Look for loose flocks of 15 to 50 or more jays flying just above the treetops. They’ll begin their southward trip late September. (Most of our local jays seem to adapt to our less harsh winters and are year-round residents.)

Two deep Arctic birds that sometimes find their way to Pennsylvania are the snow buntings and snowy owls. The latter is only seen here every few years. But it confirms that some owl species do migrate. Another now very common Arctic breeder that finds the Lehigh Valley a winter-feeding area is the snow goose. A January drive in Lehigh County could bring you to harvested grain fields appearing snow covered with thousands of “snows” feeding there. They do migrate quite a long distance after breeding above the Arctic Circle on the tundra. These birds migrate in flocks sometimes consisting of hundreds of birds. In contrast, juncos migrate at night as individuals or sometimes in the company of a few others.

So, as we progress through the next few weeks know that most of our songbirds from the north will be flying overhead in the darkness and then dropping into our forests and woodlots to feed and recharge during the daylight hours.

I thought I’d quiz you with two matching tests where you can do your best to find out where these common birds spend their winters.

Match the birds to their winter destinations

1. Broad-winged hawk A. Florida

2. Catbird B. Central America

3. Robin C. Peru

4. Ruby-throated hummingbird D. Argentina

5. Bobolink E. Southern U.S.

Second quiz

6. Osprey A. Peru

7. Barn swallow B. Mexico

8. Tree swallow C. Atlantic Coast

9. Baltimore oriole D. Argentina

10. Whippoorwill E. Amazon Forests

11. Common grackles F. Maryland/Delaware

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Bees, mantids, cicadas and many other insects have ___ eyes. A. 2; B. 3; C. 5; D. 8.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Many butterflies get needed salts and amino acids from mud puddles, animal dung, and eating rotting animal flesh.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

Answers to the quizzes above: 1. C 2. A 3. C 4. B 5. D 6. A. 7. D 8. C 9. B 10. E 11. F

Most of us in the Times News area do not have Northern juncos visiting their feeders after the end of April. They move hundreds of miles north to breed, return again in late September, and are a short distance migrant. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Snow geese are a common winter resident especially in the Lehigh Valley agricultural areas. They breed on the Tundra and migrate long distances and usually in huge flocks often so large it's impossible to count their numbers.
The gorgeous blackburnian warbler, breeding in secluded northern Carbon County woodlands, may already have begun their thousands of miles journey to winter feeding areas in forested mountains in Columbia, Bolivia, and Peru. They generally avoid prolonged flights over water but some do fly 18 hours without stopping across the Gulf of Mexico.
We found tens of thousands of grackles and red-winged blackbirds in their winter feeding areas this past winter. It's almost hard to perceive the sheer numbers making up these flocks as they feed and move to overnight roosting areas. Their winter destination is answered in your quiz.