Fall Migration | Prairie Public Broadcasting

It’s that time of year. Labor Day is in the rearview mirror and thoughts turn to fall. And fall in North Dakota often brings to mind flocks of birds on their fall migration.

Migration is not an easy affair. It involves risks and is extremely energy-intensive. For some birds, half of their body weight should be fat when they begin their migration. Others have to stop occasionally to fuel their bio-furnaces in order to make the trip. Then, of course, once they have reached their wintering grounds, the environment may no longer meet their needs.

Most waterfowl hunters know that when it comes to waterfowl migration, there are four generally recognized flyways or flyways: Atlantic Flyway, Mississippi Flyway, Central Flyway (which includes the North Dakota) and the Pacific. The concept of flyways is a fairly broad generalization that helps waterfowl managers better manage geese, swans and cranes migrating in family groups. It is less useful with ducks and other birds. And as most North Dakota goose hunters know, fall flocks of snow geese in the central flyway, for example, can change dramatically over the years.

But different species have quite different migration schedules. In fact, the fall migration of some birds started much earlier. You may have noticed that there aren’t many shorebirds around the marshes in the area anymore. They probably started their migration in July. Bohemian waxwings, on the other hand, will likely wait for lack of food to push them south.

We sometimes hear geese overhead during the day and night. Many small birds, warblers for example, migrate at night. And some species, like snow geese, can fly nonstop to their destination. Others, however, will stop, perhaps daily, to rest and feed. Most will fly below 3,000 feet, with some flocks consisting of a single species while others, such as sparrows and blackbirds, may migrate in mixed flocks.

It seems that during spring and fall migrations, we often wonder how they do it. Of course, not all birds will reach their winter destination, but the majority will. So this fall, be sure to take the time to enjoy these fall flights. Maybe even go out at night once in a while to see if you can hear or see the birds migrating overhead. Even as scientists solve some of the mysteries of migration, it still seems to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder.