What are migratory bird stopover sites?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

A flock of migrating birds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A flock of migrating birds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When birds migrate to warmer climates, their long distance travel requires them to take frequent breaks to rest and refuel in order to complete their long journey. Just like people need to make pit stops for food and rest during long car rides, birds need places along the way that provide areas with food, water and shelter from the weather and predators. These sites are known as stopovers and they are essential for bird migrations. Areas like woods, wetlands and beaches with an adequate amount of food and shelter help the species survive and migrate from year to year. The Great Lakes area provide important stopover sites for waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors and owls.

There are three types of stopover sites for birds and each one serves an important purpose for migration. They are fire escapes, convenience stores and full-service hotels.

Fire escapes

Fire escape stopovers sites that receive less use because they are lacking in food and other resources but they are essential during high stress situations. These areas are typically small isolated patches of habitat. They can be a city park, a small island on the Great Lakes, a freighter, a docked boat or a lighthouse. Birds use these fire escapes when they need a short term break break from flying due to bad weather or predators.

Convenience stores

Convenience stores sites that are larger than fire escapes, such as a county park and forested patches in cities. They provide a limited source of shelter and food, but enough for birds to take a short rest and eat enough to gain energy to continue their migration.

Full-service hotels

Full-service hotels are sites where migrating birds can rest fully for several days and load up on food without a risk of predators. They are extensive, intact areas that are rich in resources with a diverse array of habitats that can house a large number of birds. Examples of full-service hotels are state or national parks, expansive forests, national wildlife refuges or state wildlife areas.

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