Bird Migration: North American Bird Flyways
Bird migration may seem random, but most bird species actually fly along standard routes. These routes have been used by each species for untold generations, and scientists have mapped and labeled them for simplicity’s sake. What flyways go over your area? Find out below and be sure to look for activities in your area on the next International Migratory Bird Day.
- Bird Facts
- Migration Timing
- Migration Flyways
BIRD MIGRATION MAPS
When birds head north or south during migration, they use a route that’s called a flyway. In North America, there are four key flyways – the Pacific, the Central, the Mississippi and the Atlantic.
Each of these flyways traces the general route that birds take as they head for warmer weather before winter arrives. The same routes can be flown in reverse in the spring, allowing birds to reach these safe zones prior to breeding season.
- Pacific Flyway – This thin flyway tends to follow the Pacific coast throughout its entire range. Birds on the Pacific Flyway can travel as far north as Alaska and to the tip of South America.
- Central Flyway – While not on some of the world flyway maps, the Central Flyway is a unique flyway according to North American experts. This flyway tends to follow the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains as it zips up through central Canada.
- Mississippi Flyway – Following the path of the Mississippi River, this flyway is notable for its distinct lack of mountains to block or funnel migrating birds. That makes the Mississippi Flyway the most used flyway of the American routes, particularly by water fowl.
- Atlantic Flyway – Like the Pacific Flyway, the Atlantic Flyway is bordered by an ocean, and it compels birds to hug the coastline during their migration journeys. This flyway includes over-the-water jaunts as birds cross the Gulf of Mexico. It also includes routes that jump to Cuba and other Caribbean islands.
- Central America chokepoint and points south – All four of the American flyways meet up in the thin land bridge of Central America. Flyways naturally follow landmasses because birds need food and resting points during their journey. This makes Central America a chokepoint of sorts – most migrating birds are funneled through this tight corridor. The chokepoint also creates a perfect hotspot for birdwatchers. In fact, some of the world’s best birding tours are through Central America! As the flyways enter South America, they pretty much intermingle with one another.
- Other Flyways – There are several other flyways used by birds across the world. Like the American flyways, these routes are generally a north-south passageway, which helps birds move to warmer climates in the spring and fall. In total, there are five other primary flyways – utilized by birds in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
MIGRATORY BIRD DAY
Every year, International Migratory Bird Day is celebrated twice – once for spring migration north and once for fall migration south. For spring migration, it’s held on the second Saturday in May for the U.S. and Canada. Latin America celebrates it on the second Saturday of October.
The event, coordinated by the Environment for the Americas, was first organized in 1993. The purpose of International Migratory Bird Day is to educate the citizens of North and South America about the importance of migratory birds and to help preserve the habitats they need to continue to thrive.
If you’re looking for IMBD events in your area, check with a nearby nature center, the closest U.S. Forest Service office or your local Audubon club.
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