This is part one of a four part series on migrators.
When winter arrives, animals have only a few choices: migrate to a warmer place, hibernate, or cope with the conditions. Last year’s blog series featured different types of hibernators. This year we are going to profile some species that head south and explain why the change in locale is necessary for survival.
Humans aren’t the only species that decide warmer places may be the best place to spend an Alberta winter. Many passerines (songbirds) migrate south to Mexico, Central America or even South America in search of warm places with available food. Typically, these are species that eat bugs (insects, worms, spiders, etc.), which are scarce in winter. The birds that stay in Alberta eat mainly seeds and berries.
Did you know that you can identify the type of food a bird eats by looking at its beak?
Seed eaters have shorter, broader beaks designed to crack open seeds, and bug eaters have narrower, pointier beaks designed to grasp and poke. The robin is one of the province’s most familiar birds that falls into the latter category, although with milder winters robins are occasionally spotted in winter, turning to berries and whatever else they can find to eat.
Some of our migrating songbirds are Species of Special Concern: black-throated green warbler, Cape May warbler, and bay-breasted warbler. Every spring these little birds travel thousands of kilometres from warm wintering areas to breed in the boreal forest.
Alberta as a warm winter destination?
Some birds that spend their summers further north will migrate south to Alberta for the winter, which is why we only see species like the common redpoll during the winter. Maintaining a bird feeder during the winter not only helps our local birds, but also some hardy northern species like the redpoll.
What other species decide the winter is “snow” place for them? Check out part two of the merry migrators series to find out!