Weather and Songbird Migration: February 22, 2012
Dr. David Aborn, ornithologist
Dr. David Aborn

Dear Students:

It has been a warm and rainy winter here in Tennessee, and signs of spring have been showing up early. Crocuses and forsythias are blooming, and I heard the first robins, cardinals, and Song sparrows singing here at the end of January! The bluebirds have paired up and are busily checking out nest sites. Best of all, it won't be long before migrants start arriving from their wintering grounds in the tropics!

Learn to Read a Weather Map
There are still a few weeks before things really get busy, so you have time to practice predicting migratory activity from looking at a weather map. Be sure to read my tutorial on how to read a weather map and how weather affects bird migration so you can prepare for my reports this migration season.

What Can We Expect This Week?
Let's practice our predictions by looking at this week's weather map and see what is happening:

  • You will notice that a cold front recently moved across the country, but it was a weak one that didn't bring much rain or colder temperatures. If migration had been full swing, migrants would not have been slowed down and would have able to fly farther inland. The next couple of days, however, would be a different story.
  • A couple of low-pressure systems are moving across the south over the next couple of days, and a cold front is forming behind them. Severe weather is predicted in the southern US today and tomorrow. If migrants were arriving from the tropics, storms and north winds would force birds to land in large numbers, creating what is known as a fallout. Bird watchers and researchers like to see fallouts because it means lots of birds!

Lost? Blown Off Course?
Sometimes birds get lost or get blown off course during migration and end up far from their normal range. That is what happened here in Tennessee this winter. The unusual bird at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge attracted several thousand visitors from 47 states and 10 foreign countries. Click on each photo below to find out where the bird came from, how it got to Tennessee, and where it is now. Maybe you shoud watch for it too!

Three types of cranes are in this unusual photo: a Hooded crane, a Whooping crane and many Sandhill cranes. A Hooded crane from Asia  surprised bird watchers at Tennessee's Hiwassee Refuge in the winter of 2011-2012.
Photo: David Aborn
Photo: David Aborn

Get Ready!
While migration may be slow for now, it won't be long before we are all up
to our necks in migrants, so dust off your binoculars!

Take Care.

David Aborn
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN