May 11

The 11th and 12th of May mark World Migratory Bird Day, which launched in 2006 to raise awareness of the need to protect migratory birds. Migratory birds often make several stops on their amazing journeys to a wide array of different habitats across the world. Many of these habitats are of vital importance to these birds, allowing them to rest, feed and breed.

Sadly many of these habitats are also under threat from pollution, development or global warming. To further complicate matters, many migratory routes cross the borders of several countries, meaning that a global conservation effort is required to be effective. This year’s World Migratory Bird Day theme is ‘Networking for Migratory Birds’, which focuses on the need for the relevant organisations to cooperate and network with each other to achieve conservation goals.

The ARKive website has images, videos and facts for many different migratory birds – here are just a few:

The long distance marathon record

The Arctic tern has one of the longest migration routes of any bird, moving from the Arctic and temperate regions of the northern hemisphere all the way over to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. On the plus side, flying so far south for a second summer does mean that the Arctic tern sees the most sunlight per year of any animal.

Photo of Arctic tern calling

Almost pole to pole – the Arctic tern

Longest non-stop flight

Imagine travelling up to 10,400 kilometres with no stops whatsoever. The bar-tailed godwit does just that when it migrates from Alaska and Siberia to its wintering grounds in New Zealand. Though averaging an impressive flight speed of 63 kilometres per hour it still takes around 175 hours. That’s what I call a long haul flight!

Photo of bar-tailed godwit flock in flight

Bar-tailed godwit flock in flight

Migration en masse for some winter sun

The barn swallow is probably one of the world’s most familiar bird species as it is the most numerous and widespread of all the swallows. It is also a very agile flier, making sharp turns to catch insects on the wing. Before migrating south for the winter, these small birds form flocks of over a million individuals. Quite a sight to behold.

Photo of barn swallows congregating in tree

A flock of barn swallows congregating in a tree

The 747 of birds

The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of all birds, at an impressive three and a half metres! Given its name, it probably comes as no surprise that this species gets around quite a bit. Its large wingspan allows the wandering albatross to soar with little effort over long distances.

Photo of wandering albatross in flight against stormy sky with pair displaying in backgroud

It will take more than a bit of stormy weather to ground the wandering albatross

George Bradford, ARKive Researcher

May 11
Photo of whooping cranes foraging in a corn field during spring migration

Whooping crane (Grus americana)

Species: Whooping crane (Grus americana)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America, reaching up to 1.5 metres in height.

Named for its whooping call, the whooping crane represents one of the best-known conservation success stories in North America. This large white bird is marked with red and black on the face, and has black wing-tips. Whooping cranes usually mate for life, and have a varied diet consisting of crabs, clams, small fish, insects, frogs and other wetland animals, as well as berries and grain. The whooping crane undertakes spectacular migrations of thousands of miles from its nesting grounds in northern North America to its feeding grounds in the south.

Once widespread across North America, the whooping crane has undergone a dramatic decline in recent centuries. By the mid-20th century its migratory population had been reduced to just 16 individuals, and its non-migratory population disappeared entirely. This huge decline resulted from wetland clearance and drainage, as well as egg collecting, hunting and other human disturbances. Human development and collisions with power lines still present threats to this large wetland bird today. Fortunately, the whooping crane has been the subject of concerted conservation efforts, including habitat protection, population monitoring and a captive breeding programme, with captive-bred individuals being released back into the wild. As a result of these efforts, the total whooping crane population has increased to around 599 birds.

Find out more about whooping crane conservation at the International Crane Foundation and the Whooping Crane Conservation Association.

See images and videos of the whooping crane on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 16

The world’s migratory birds perform some of the most remarkable feats in the animal kingdom, with some species, such as the Arctic tern, undertaking epic journeys which span thousands of kilometres. The annual migration of an estimated 50 billion birds, representing around 19% of the world’s 10,000 bird species, is one of nature’s great natural wonders.

Photo of Arctic tern adult feeding young

The Arctic tern migrates an impressive 22,000 km annually, travelling from its Arctic breeding grounds to winter in the Antarctic

Weekend celebrations

Over the weekend (14th and 15th May), people from over 50 countries took part in celebrations to mark World Migratory Bird Day 2011. An annual campaign, World Migratory Bird Day is devoted to celebrating migratory birds and promoting their conservation worldwide.

The theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, ‘Land use changes from a bird’s-eye view ,’ was designed to highlight the negative effects that human activities are having on migratory birds, their habitats and the planet’s natural environment.

Photo of bar-headed goose flock in flight

Bar-headed geese are the world’s highest flying migratory birds, migrating over Mount Everest at 29,000 feet to reach India's lowlands

Migratory bird populations are particularly sensitive to any interference to the sites they use throughout their migratory cycle.

Unfortunately, habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are occurring on a global scale, and each year, more and more of the natural habitats that migratory birds need to complete their marathon journeys either diminish or disappear completely.

Human impact

The destruction of the world’s natural habitats is being caused mainly by the growing pressures placed on the natural environment by an ever-expanding human population, coupled with increasing urbanisation and unsustainable human use of the world’s natural areas and resources.

Although migratory birds face many serious threats, the way humans use the land around them has by far the greatest negative effect. Unsustainable human land use, whether through deforestation, intensive agriculture, biofuel production, land reclamation, urbanization and mining directly removes or damages the habitats of migratory birds, affecting their populations on a global scale”, says Bert Lenten, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and initiator of the World Migratory Bird Day campaign.

Photo of Ruby-throated hummingbird male feeding

Some of the world’s smallest birds, such as the ruby-throated hummingbird, travel extraordinary distances given their diminutive size

To raise awareness of the urgent need to conserve migratory birds and protect their habitats, hundreds of volunteers, dedicated groups and organisations around the world took action and organised a variety of public events to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day – including bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and bird watching excursions.

Find out what happened to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day near you by visiting:

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author


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