Weather Forecasts for Migrating Songbirds #2


Published: 03/24/2021

Dear Journey North Readers,

It is officially spring. But spring migration is still just a trickle. I am waiting on some of the early migrating species such as Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos to show up. A few Black-and-white Warblers and Prothonotary Warblers have been seen along the Gulf coast. The first Yellow Warblers and Western Tanagers have arrived in California and Arizona. Fear not, it is still early in the season – there are plenty of species yet to arrive!

If you look at the weather map for this week, a powerful storm system is moving across the middle of the country. This system is expected to bring strong storms, especially to Mississippi and Alabama. When storm systems like this happen, they can create what’s known as a fallout. The heavy rain and strong winds force birds to land in large numbers, and they seem to “fall out” of the sky. These events are particularly impressive along the Gulf coast as birds have just completed an 18 hour non-stop flight across the Gulf. They are exhausted. When they are this tired and encounter such bad weather, they land wherever they can. When I was doing my Ph.D work on the Mississippi coast, I got to witness some of these fallouts. You can stand on the beach and watch waves of birds struggling against the wind. As soon as they reach land, they drop. You can walk through the dunes and each saltbush or cluster of Spartina grass has an assortment of warblers, vireos, tanagers, and thrushes. Once you see a fallout firsthand, you won’t soon forget it! We are too early in migration season for a big fallout. However,  if a system like this comes through in a few weeks, there will be lots of excitement among birders.

While migration is slow, this is a good time to go out and practice seeing and hearing birds in your area. It’s also a good time to practice reading a weather map. In the meantime, I will keep watching for new arrivals!

Take care.

David Aborn