Welcome to Weather and Songbird Migration

February 28, 2018 by Julie Brophy

Songbirds are starting to show up from the Tropics! Get ready with Dr. Aborn's primer on weather and migration, and find out why 2018 has been declared the "Year of the Bird"!

Purple martins arrived this week after a long journey north from South America. Image by Andrew Reding.

Weather and Migration: February 28, 2018

Dear Journey North,

Even though there are still a few more weeks until the official start of spring, there are already signs of spring. Robins, Song Sparrows and Cardinals have been singing since mid-January, and Bluebirds are starting to check out nest boxes for breeding.

Even better than that, however, is that migrants are starting to show up from the tropics! The first Tree Swallows were seen here in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, and the first Purple Martin showed up yesterday!

This season is going to be an exciting one, not just because migration always brings interesting sightings, but 2018 has been declared the Year of the Bird. Why this year? (I think every year should be the Year of the Bird!) This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects ALL native bird species throughout North America. No other act protects an entire class of organisms. The Endangered Species Act only protects species that are facing extinction, not common species. The Marine Mammal Protection Act only protects marine mammals, not all mammals. In celebration of the Year of the Bird, each week, in addition to my weather reports, I will try to include some other interesting or important information that relates to birds.

Weather and Migration
Songbird migration is very dependent on weather conditions, so in order to understand when and where songbird migration may occur, you need to know how to read a weather map.

Each week, I will be showing you the map for that week’s weather, and helping you predict who might see lots of birds arriving. Then the next week, I will report on bird sightings from all over the country and see if the predictions were correct. Let’s get started with my Weather Map Primer on how to read a weather map and how weather affects bird migration!

What Will This Week’s Weather Bring?
So what does this week look like? Notice that there is a cold front moving across the country, and there is a warm front ahead of it. That warm front is bringing heavy rain to the southeast and Midwest (we are expecting as much as 4 inches here in Chattanooga!). If migration were in full swing, that rain would force birds to land in big numbers, and birders would have lots to see. The high pressure behind the cold front is bringing clear skies, but north winds to the middle of the country, so birds would also be forced to land and birding would be good. In the western U.S., the high pressure is far enough east that winds are from the south, allowing migrants to continue their journey north.

Stay Tuned!
It is too early for a lot of migrating songbirds to be arriving yet, but some of the early birds may still come in, and so next week I will let you know if any of them are being seen!

Take care,

David Aborn, Ornithologist
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN