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Plenty of Floridians Enraptured by Migration's Many Mysteries

Twice-Annual Mass Migration Brings Many Unusual Species to Our State

As Floridians say goodbye to Swallow-tailed Kites for the year, we get ready to welcome a new wave of visitors on their cross-continental journey. Be on the lookout for a host of warblers including the Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Palm, Yellow-rumped and Golden-winged, as well as raptors, cuckoos, thrushes and grosbeaks. These world travelers use nothing but their own small yet powerful bodies to traverse grand distances humans would find daunting. Why do they go through all the trouble? Going south for the winter to avoid the cold seems intuitive when so many human 'snowbirds' do the same, but many birds are able to adapt to winter weather. On the other hand, once the birds have arrived in the tropics, why would they want to leave?

Ornithologists are hard at work answering these questions, and there are competing theories as to whether long distance migrants originated in the north or south of the continent. Either way, both locations have their advantages. The tropics may be warm all year, but longer northern summer days and seasonal plant and insect abundance can be a big plus when it comes to raising offspring. Migratory birds start their annual journeys in response to changes in day length, temperature, and food abundance. It is thought that long distance migrations may have originated from shorter journeys to and from prime feeding and breeding locations, and that these journeys extended in response to shifting environmental conditions.

Migrating birds display a range of abilities that would look like superpowers in a human. They fly thousands of miles and navigate using a variety of directional cues from the sun, moon and stars, the earth's magnetic field, landmarks, and even smell. Fascinatingly, young migratory birds have an innate knowledge of how far and in what direction they should travel, even without knowing their destination. When they get to the wintering grounds they imprint on an area and will be able to find that spot again each year after, even if they get blown off course.

To see the incredible numbers of birds that migrate through our state, or even your home county, check out BirdCast to see real-time migration patterns and predictions across the US.


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