Neotropical migrating birds compelled to take on extraordinary feat

Special to the PRESS

The month of April is one birders notably look forward to along the Texas gulf coast. It is peak time in the passing of millions of neotropical migratory birds heading to northern breeding grounds coming from wintering sites in the tropics.

These birds are in a hurry and pass through much quicker than during the fall migration. Hormones are kicking in and drive the birds into amazingly bright and colorful breeding plumages and excites them to get to breeding sites as quickly as possible to claim the best nesting territories they can find.

Such is the hurry that some species are compelled to take on an extraordinary feat: a trans-gulf non-stop migration flight across 600 miles of open ocean from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to the Texas coastline. The hard south winds of the spring season help to catapult the birds across the gulf.

Most get across easily and even fly right over the coastlines and deep into the mainland, but there are always a few late season cold fronts that suddenly change the wind against the birds’ favor during their crossing.

In this event, with almost nowhere to land out at sea, birds must push through the headwinds in hopes of reaching the coastline where upon arriving they drop into any bit of green and brushy habitat they can find.

When considering bird conservation, it is not only their breeding and wintering habitats that are important to preserve, but also the habitats in between that serve as important rest stops for the birds. The SPI Birding Center and the Island in general is an extremely important place for birds in migration, especially transgulf migrants.

At the SPIBNC&GS, most of its work through the month of March is done in preparation for the spring migration and the breeding season. Staff and volunteers get habitats in the best shape possible so that tired and hungry migratory birds can find the food, water, and energy they need after their marathon flight across the gulf, so they can regain the strength required to carry them through the next leg of their migration.

More than 200 bird species are recorded on site during the month of April within the 43 acres of the SPI Birding Center. There have been days in the latter part of the month where the center has seen 130 plus species in a single day.

Warblers, orioles, and tanagers fill the trees around the visitor center. Buntings, and sparrows scatter all over the lawns and shrubs. Shorebirds and seabirds fill the mudflats and saltmarsh. Swallows and migratory gull flocks fill the air.

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