Migratory Birds Land at Conservancy Preserves

To see a map of our Illinois preserves and which birds stop by during migration, download the PDF.

Imagine you just spent the last 48 hours flying overseas, only to find when you land that your hotel has been torn down and you have no place to rest and recharge. This is the situation many migratory birds would face if it weren’t for Conservancy preserves across the country.

Places like Emiquon and Nachusa Grasslands are essential stopover spots for neotropical migrants like the bobolink during their annual migrations. These small birds travel 12,500 miles every year, spending winters in the grasslands of South America, and then migrating north to breeding grounds in the northern United States and southern parts of Canada.

But migrations aren’t just about the end goals of breeding and wintering, says Jeff Walk, the Illinois Chapter’s director of science.
“Stop over habitat is critical for migratory birds. During spring migrations, some species will fly overnight across the Gulf of Mexico, or fly non-stop for days across the Pacific Ocean. And they need more than a place to rest when they arrive; they also need food and clean water. If any one of the places on their route goes offline, the whole cycle is put in jeopardy,” he explains.

Birds like bobolinks are already facing a range of environmental challenges, from habitat loss to climate change, that are causing a serious drop in their numbers.

“Climate change can result in ‘timing mismatches’ for migratory birds,” Walk explains.

“If the temperatures are warmer than normal and insects come out of hiberna¬tion too early in a location where migratory birds normally stop to feed, that critical food source may already be gone by the time the birds touch down in that area.”

This means that the restoration and conservation of wetland and grassland habitats along their migration routes is more important than ever.

“Restorations like Nachusa have been great for bobolinks and other migratory bird populations,” Walk said.

That’s good news for birds, for the people who love to see them in the wild, and even for the economy here in Illinois. In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 48 million people engaged in birding, and that it generated a whopping $82 million in total industry output, sustaining 671,000 jobs and creating $11 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue. The numbers speak for themselves: people love birds, and Walk is one of those people.

“The physical feat of migration is remarkable to me, and how birds are able to find these places year after year, across so many miles,” he said.


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