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Discover Migration Patterns to See More Birds

Migration patterns - wild birds - Tractor Supply Co.
Learning about migration patterns can help you see many different types of birds.

Some birds migrate long distances, others short distances, and some stay home year-round. Birds migrate in relation to the resources available to them. When the temperatures change
and food becomes scarce, many birds fly south, while others simply move to lower elevations within their permanent range.

Learning about migration patterns can help you see many different types of birds that are traveling through your area, for short periods of time, in the fall and spring.

Some migrating birds will stop wherever there is available food and water, which is why installing bird feeders and birdbaths is a great way to welcome migratory birds to your yard.

Migration Routes: Bird highways

Groups of birds migrating through the U.S. will generally stay within one of four routes depending on their point of departure. These routes are based on geographical obstacles like mountains, rivers and coasts. The primary North American routes are the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific Flyways which end in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and other tropical destinations. Flying at an average altitude of 1525 feet above sea level, migrants travel varying distances: While Plovers migrate 2,400 miles each way in the U.S., Hudson Bay Blackpolls winter 5,000 miles away in Venezuela and some Terns fly up to 11,000 miles.

While every migrating species follows a different migration pattern, four fairly well-used "bird highways" exist in North America, and are where you can see the most birds during migration season:

  • Atlantic flyway - Primarily used by ducks, swans, geese and cranes up and down the East Coast. Some birds fly from central Canada over to the coast and then head south.
  • Mississippi flyway - Extending from Canada to Mexico between Indiana and Alabama on the east side, and between Iowa and Louisiana on the west side. This flyway is used by ducks, geese, shorebirds, blackbirds, sparrows, warbler and thrushes.
  • Central flyway - Between Canada and Mexico with the central plains states to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west. This flyway is used by Mallards, Geese, Mourning Doves and other ducks.
  • Pacific flyway - Along the West Coast, used by ducks and geese. The Yellow-billed Magpie and White-headed Woodpecker also migrate only in the Pacific region.

Don't worry that feeding birds will keep them around and disrupt their migration, Brittingham says. "That could happen with waterfowl but not with smaller birds."

Helping these winged wanderers might get you a special bonus; next year, the birds might return and bring a friend.