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Contents tagged with migration

  • Migratory Birds: Connecting Us to the Rest of the World

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    Tags: birds, ornithology, migration

    Created: 5/13/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    Red-winged blackbird

    Red-winged Blackbird

    It’s Christmas at the Nature Museum today. Or at least that’s what it seems like with all of the colorful ornaments adorning the trees around the building. These ornaments are actually migratory birds though, arriving to celebrate spring. Blue-winged and yellow warblers, red-winged blackbirds and redstarts, gold finches in their breeding finery, and blue-grey gnatcatchers seem to be flitting from every bough. Veery and wood thrush provide holiday songs, while kingfishers lay down the beat.  Even the catbird, while not as melodious as some, contributes soft mews that spice the soundscape, too.

    Palm warbler

    Palm Warbler

    For many of these species, Chicago is the last layover on a transcontinental flight from winter home to breeding grounds. For others, this is their final stop; they will spend the summer eating bugs and weed seeds in our neighborhoods. Such a migration is one of the amazing phenomena of life. For example, the blackpoll warbler may fly for 1,500 miles in one hop, often over open ocean. Though some will pause at North Pond after they leave Brazil, Blackpolls only finish their seasonal travel when they are near the arctic, where the trees and the bugs are perfect for nesting and feeding protein-hungry young. 

    Though I’ve spent my share of time in airports and flying over the ocean, migration remains an abstract concept to me. My own personal peregrinations rely on fossil fuels and technology, punctuated by stops at greasy spoons and historical monuments. In contrast, birds cross continents using their own metabolic power. They spend a few frenetic weeks foraging on every high calorie insect they can find, sometimes doubling their summer weight. Then, when the weather is right and the moon is full they launch themselves into the void and fly. 

    Male cardinal

    Cardinal

    I’ve hiked a lot at night in the desert and sat in the shade all day-- which might be comparable to some of the weakest migrators-- but imagine walking day and night, in weather foul and fair. Such a trek is almost inconceivable for me, yet many birds do it every spring and autumn for their whole lives. More concrete to me than migration is the physical presence of a bird. All winter I enjoy the blue jays, chickadees, and house sparrows that live in my neighborhood. Then, suddenly one morning I see a flash of red that is somehow more intense than a cardinal, faster than a flicker, and more skulking than a nuthatch—a scarlet  tanager! This bird flew from the foothills of the Andes, crossed the Panama canal, probably spent a day or two in the Yucatan then bee-lined across the gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri only to pause in a tree outside my window, pluck a bug from the branch, and disappear into the leaves.

    Scarlet tanager

    Scarlet Tanager (CheepShot via CC BY 2.0)

    It’s easy to have a feeling of ownership towards the birds that live near us. When a robin builds its nest above the back door, it’s “your” bird. Did the baby’s hatch? Did they fledge? Maybe you even left some worms on the sidewalk to supplement the meals. Doubtless you would close the door softly or even stop using the door altogether during incubation. And what would you do if a cat began stalking “your” robin?

    In the same way that the robin is “yours,” so is the scarlet tanager. Cats will kill it and pesticides will starve it just as surely as they will the local robin. However, that scarlet tanager lives in many people’s backyards during the year. All it takes is one loose cat in Costa Rica, one field sprayed for bugs in Honduras, one windmill in Texas, or one well lit building in Chicago to kill that tanager before it gets to your back yard. If migratory birds belong to anyone, they belong to all of us. Our stewardship of the environment today matters for both the bird and for our brothers and sisters around the world everyday.

    While it may not actually be Christmas at the Nature Museum today, it is a season of celebration of life and of the parts of life that we all share.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Tropical Visitors

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    Tags: warblers, migration, bird watching, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, urban ecology

    Created: 5/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Stop by North Pond for the next several days to greet our tropical visitors---warblers.  There are many species of warblers, small insect eating birds, that live in the tropics during our winter, then fly through our backyards on the way to Canada to spend the summer breeding and eating things like tent caterpillars. 

    Palm Warbler



    Today the Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum is common and easy to find.  The birds you see today around the pond may have been in Panama or Cuba just a few days ago.  Look for the rusty cap and a constantly twitching tail.

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  • Migratory Dragonfly Partnership

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    Tags: dragonflies, migration, conservation, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Biology, insects

    Created: 4/23/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    When most people think of insect migration, they quite understandably think of the Monarch butterfly. It comes as a surprise to many that some species of dragonflies also migrate. In this part of the world, many of the larger and more familiar species, like Green Darners and Black Saddlebags, are among the migrants.

    Swarm of migrating Green Darner
    Swarm of migrating Green Darner (Anax junius) dragonflies outside of the Nature Museum

    Migrating swarms of dragonflies have been observed in places like the shores of Lake Michigan, the Gulf Coast of Texas, and along the east coast of Mexico in places like Veracruz. Migrating swarms are sometimes observed near migrating flocks of raptors, and there is some evidence that they provide a significant nutritional resource for migrating hawks. 

    A saddlebags dragonfly
    A saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea sp.) in Veracruz.  This is one of the species that migrates.

    In contrast to the Monarch migration, there still isn't much known about the dragonfly migration. Details of the timing and the ultimate destination are still unknown. Are the individuals that head south the same ones that return north?

    The Cansaburro Dunes in Veracruz
    The Cansaburro Dunes in Veracruz.  Researchers are trying to determine how the Gulf Coast of Mexico figures in dragonfly migration.

    In an attempt to learn more about dragonfly migration, the US Forest Service's Wings Across the Americas program has assembled a group of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, and federal agencies and formed the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP). The partnership includes representatives from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Members of the partnership, including representatives from the Nature Museum, have traveled to Veracruz to observe migrating dragonflies. The partnership meets annually to discuss how best to learn more about dragonfly migration. 

    You can find out more about ways to help scientists learn more about dragonfly migration by visiting the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership web site.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Migration Season

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    Tags: migration, autumn, birds

    Created: 11/20/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Chicago is a birding hotspot especially in spring and fall during migration. The Chicago Ornithological Society lead morning bird walks around North Pond every Wednesday which start and finish here at the Museum. The list of species they have observed right outside our windows is very impressive. We are always looking for new ideas for public and school programs so a few years ago when the idea of a bird watching program was suggested we installed some bird feeders at the north east corner of the building.


    Even we couldn’t have imagined just how successful they would be. We have recorded the first ever sighting for Lincoln Park of a Yellow-headed Blackbird and when an extremely unusual Cinnamon Teal blew in one winter it too paid a visit to our feeders.

    Last winter we had a regular Red-headed Woodpecker adding a splash of colour outside our window.

    Red-headed Woodpecker


    And this spring we were inundated with Baltimore Oriole’s draining the nectar from the hummingbird feeders.

    Baltimore Oriole


    Now fall migration is upon us again and the Red-breasted Nuthatches are making the most of the peanut feeder.

    Red-breasted Nuthatches


    And of course there is always that endearing year round favourite, the Downy Woodpecker.

    Downy Woodpecker


    Depending on the time of year we have a constant parade of colourful species so next time you are at the Museum be sure to visit the North Terrace, you never know what you might see.

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections


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