Bird Migration

(This column was first published in the March 12, 2001 Buffalo News.)

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose.

That lovely verse from Ecclesiastes has a special meaning at this time of year. When I pause in writing this column, I can look out my window on a winter landscape, snow piled on the bare limbs of leafless trees, more falling to add to the depth, the only birds in evidence a few finches and chickadees scratching for feeder seeds and the ubiquitous neighborhood crows. It is a bleak time, yes, but some of those snow-covered trees are budding and remarkably the bird migration season is already underway. Spring, thank goodness, is just around the corner.

Flocks of migrating blackbirds are being seen and many of the male ducks along our river and lake shorelines are displaying before prospective mates. Testosterone is flowing and migration pressure is heating up.

The driving forces behind migration are not well understood but we do know, from records gathered over many years, that birds arrive on fixed schedules. Those swallows of Capistrano are not the only finely-tuned migrants. I share with you here some of those schedules, the approximate dates drawn from Beardslee and Mitchell's Birds of the Niagara Frontier.(The Buffalo Ornithological Society is currently preparing a more detailed date reference.)

I mention first, because many observers still go to see them there, the timing of peak Canada goose numbers -- often over 100,000 -- at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. According to refuge biologist Paul Hess the best dates are usually the last week of March or the first week of April. At that time there are 5,000 to 10,000 ducks as well. It is difficult to realize that 50 years ago Canada geese were uncommon.

Later at Iroquois, each Saturday afternoon from April 7 to May 28 a buffalo Audubon Society project will provide telescope views of waterfowl at the Cayuga Pool overlook on Route 77 as well as driving tours, nature walks and, on some evenings, "owl prowls".

Here then are the dates when many other species will return:

March 11-20 Tundra Swan, Northern Pintail, Redhead, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird

March 21-30 Great Blue Heron, Snow Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Northern Harrier, Killdeer, American Woodcock, Fox Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Purple Finch

April 1-10 Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Turkey Vulture, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Cooper's Hawk, American Coot, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow, Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush

April 11-20 American Bittern, Wood Duck, Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Pine Warbler, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow

April 21-30 Double-crested Cormorant, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-headed Vireo, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow

May 1-10 Green Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, Spotted Sandpiper, Black Tern, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Bank Swallow, House Wren, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Golden-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Bobolink, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch

May 11-20 Least Bittern, Semipalmated Plover, Black-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Marsh Wren, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, American Redstart, Mourning Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Canada Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting

May 21-30 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Blackpoll Warbler

By then, of course, it will be a different world entirely.-- Gerry Rising