Catch Nature's Incredible Spring Show With These Birdwatching Tips
The greatest show of the season is about to take flight!
Maria Bailey and Sarah Burns
Spring has finally sprung, which means billions of birds have also sprung into action, traveling from their winter homes in the south to their summer breeding grounds in the north. This worldwide phenomenon, called spring migration, sees approximately 10 billion birds take flight, making it one of the best times of the year for bird-watchers and budding bird-watchers alike!
Migration season is especially astounding in North America, where birds will sometimes travel 20,000 miles round-trip each spring and fall — and to think they don’t even rack up frequent-flyer miles! All jokes aside, there’s no better time to enjoy one of the greatest wonders of the natural world with the help of these birdwatching tips the whole family can follow!
But first, why do birds migrate?
There are many reasons why birds migrate thousands of miles, but they all boil down to one thing: survival! Embarking on a perilous journey from the south to the north and vice versa might sound counterintuitive, but it is essential — not only for the birds' own survival but for their families' survival as well. During migration season, birds move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. In the spring, they migrate from the south to the north to take advantage of the insect populations and nesting locations. In the fall, they take off again to head down to the south. Birds also migrate to escape the cold, almost like their own version of a spring vacation! (Why are we suddenly jealous of their travel plans?)
When is the best time to go birdwatching?
That depends on where you are! Spring migration is pretty predictable — occurring anytime between March to June — but the local peak varies from place to place in relation to the different latitudes and elevations across the country and the world. “Spring” can occur in early February in the south, late March and April in the north, and even May in the far north and high mountains. Luckily, you can take some of the guesswork out of bird migration by getting real-time predictions with BirdCast. Better yet, you can set up alerts so you’ll be notified when birds are traveling through your area.
Where is the best place to go birdwatching?
You don’t need to travel far to go birdwatching! You can spot birds at street level, from your backyard, in a park, or at a nature reserve. It does help to be near a body of water, where you are more likely to see ducks, geese, and swans, which begin to migrate in early spring once frozen lakes start to thaw. Fortunately, experts have researched some of the best places to see the spring migration across the country. Get out your binoculars!
Which birds to be on the lookout for
There are at least 4,000 different species of birds that migrate — making up 40% of the total bird population — and they do it at different times. During the spring months, you can expect to see the migration of geese early in the season, red-winged blackbirds, birds of prey, and many, many more! Keep track of when migrating birds are on the move each month of the season with this monthly migration guide from the Audubon Society.
What do you need for birdwatching?
A pair of binoculars will come in very handy when on the lookout for migrating birds — and are sure to add an exciting element of fun to your birdwatching adventure. If you don’t own a pair of binoculars, you can add a creative spin to your birdwatching expeditions by making your very own DIY pair using materials you likely have around the house. The Audubon Society has easy-to-follow instructions.
Identify birds by sound
Birdwatching is about using all of your senses, and this includes listening out for the unique calls of different species! Telling certain species of birds apart visually can be quite challenging, so learning how to bird by ear can sometimes be your best clue. Memorizing bird songs using mnemonics is a fun challenge the whole family can get in on.
What's a mnemonic? Mnemonics, or memory devices, are catchy words or phrases that can be used to mimic the sound, pitch, rhythm, and tempo of a bird song; for example: “cheer up, cheerily, cheerily” imitates the sound of an American Robin. Can you guess what sound a crow makes? Find out with this birdsong mnemonics guide. Alternatively, Song Sleuth makes identifying bird sounds easy. This exciting app helps anyone with an iOS device record, recognize, and positively identify nearly 200 species of birds in North America.