Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Migrating Birds Find a Slim Choice of Stops

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Migrating Birds Find a Slim Choice of Stops

Article excerpt

Few sounds evoke a stronger sense of fall than the migratory call of Canada geese as they fly in well-formed skeins overhead.

As these and other birds wend their way south, new research suggests that the areas they use to layover en route to wintering grounds are as important as the destinations themselves. This insight has alerted researchers to the need to preserve and protect these crucial sites.

"We have discovered that migratory stop-overs are as important as winter and summer grounds," explains Sally Conyne, director of Citizen Science, a program at the National Audubon Society linking 50 million bird watchers nationwide. "These areas are critically important and can be found across North America and around the world."

Consider the swallow-tailed kite, a raptor whose winter migratory destination was recently discovered using satellite tracking. By attaching beacons to the birds' backs, researchers tracked the kite to a single prairie tree in Brazil, where some 300 were roosting.

Sidney Gauthreaux, professor of biological sciences at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., finds this situation precarious. "If something happened to that one tree, it could eliminate hundreds of birds in the United States," he says. "We are now starting to realize how vitally important these habitat issues are."

This realization has spawned a shift in the way migratory conservation is being carried out. The mantra is "keeping common birds common," a theme repeated by ornithologists across the country.

"We're moving from an era of regulation and reactive conservation to one of proactive conservation," says Frank Gill, senior vice president for science at the National Audubon Society.

Armed with this new focus, researchers are concentrating on identifying areas of critical habitat to ordinary birds.

"Migrants are very sophisticated about choosing where they stop. But if you provide nice places, birds will come," Dr. Gill says. "They have to refuel, they have to rest for the next leg. They need a motel, and in some ways taking interest in migrants is building motels for them."

Enter Partners In Flight, an organization whose tenet, according to Kenneth Rosenberg, northeast regional director of PIF, is to study and promote the welfare of nongame birds. …

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