Rochester, New York might not be the first place you think of when you think of wilderness. But two times a year, the city and surrounding region host one of the world’s great natural phenomena: the migration of millions of songbirds back and forth across the western hemisphere.
These birds can spend more than half of the year on the move, and it’s lucky for us that they do. While traveling, birds play an important role in seed dispersal and pollination, and aid agriculture by eating insect pests.
During their journeys, migrating birds need overnight stays similar to the ones we make on long road trips to rest, eat and recharge. Such “stopover sites” are particularly critical near the Great Lakes, where more than 100 species stop en route to northern breeding grounds in the spring and south to the tropics in the fall.
Birders have long maintained that migrating songbirds respond to the Great Lakes by concentrating on the shorelines in preparation for night crossings. But does the legend hold up? And where else are these avian pit stops?
Over the past three years, 55 volunteer birders logged more than 2,000 hours and observed more than 50,000 birds to help The Nature Conservancy find out.
“We expected that birds would be abundant in areas close to Lake Ontario but we were surprised to see just how much they also use smaller patches of habitat in urban parks and suburbs,” said Kristin France, senior scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Central and Western New York.
“Identifying patterns and having rigorous information about how migrating birds use our region is critical to guiding shoreline management and conservation for the greatest impact,” she added.
The Conservancy will now use the study results to help these intercontinental travelers in a region that’s been dramatically changed by agriculture and development.
“Before, we had just anecdotal information about stopover sites—particularly on the heavily altered southern shore of Lake Ontario—and no tool to predict where they occur,” said David Klein, senior conservation practitioner for The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter.
“Thanks to the work of these citizen scientists we can now guide conservation to places we might not have otherwise considered, encourage better shoreline management and energy siting, and help landowners manage their lands in ways that provide habitat.”
What’s the incentive for Rochester and other locales in the region to be good hosts? For one thing, migrating birds are excellent guests, says Klein.
“They add to our food security by dispersing seeds. They’re amazing to watch. They eat a lot of bugs. And they bring millions to the New York economy,” he said. “The least we can do is to show them a good time while they’re here.”
For more information, including high resolution map files or spatial data, please contact Kristin France at firstname.lastname@example.org or (845) 554-3404.
Kate Frazer is communications manager for The Nature Conservancy in Central & Western New York.