2014 January – The Desert Take on Migration


Winter visiting rough legged hawk

Winter visiting rough legged hawk

There are always individual birds throughout North America that choose not to migrate, even among species known for their annual migrations. These loners stick it out at home because, as more and more birds do head south, there is less competition for remaining resources. With our mild winters, that’s the norm, rather than the exception. Arizona’s avian population swells during the winter months, though despite this influx it can be difficult to tell whether a bird is from out of town. Many of the species that head this way have members that live here every day, and while you might see an unusually large number of red-tailed hawks or some other common species, there’s little telling where an individual bird is from, or whether it will be leaving come spring. Winter can also mean an influx of visitors to your backyard birdfeeder, both new species and birds identical to those you see on a daily basis. As temperatures warm, those new arrivals will head home, even as their cousins who have always lived here stay behind. Migration, after all, is ultimately an adaptation to circumstance, rather than an unflinching rule, and individuals will do as necessity dictates. Birds born up north have more of a need to escape winter shortages, yet they have an equal compulsion to return home as spring and summer bring a bounty of food and a gentle environment to raise their young.  After all, if every bird stayed put, food would run out as surely here as elsewhere.

Even with Arizona’s winter warmth, our state is sometimes just one stop on a much longer journey south. Many species stop here on their way into Central or even South America, and then again on the trip back. Being both a destination and a stopover state, Arizona has a prime number of bird-watching locations, particularly in the southeastern parts of the state. The Tucson Audubon Society brags about a veritable treasure trove of birds waiting to be observed almost year-round, both residents and countless varieties of migrants, all brought together because of our climate.  If other states must bid farewell each year to many of their feathered residents, desert dwellers willing to take advantage of it have a great opportunity to see beautiful birds from all over North America, practically in our own back yards. Migration is a sacred, timeless journey, and as residents of Arizona, we have a unique opportunity to appreciate it from a different angle.




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