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On the Move

Watching out for migrating birds

Kind News magazine, Oct/Nov 2015

Snow geese blast off at dawn at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Photo by Daniel D'Auria, MD

It was still dark on a cold November morning. As Francoise Macomber drove into Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, her headlights swept across the marsh. What she saw took her breath away. Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese rested together in the darkness.

Macomber stumbled in the dark to find a spot to set up her camera, joining a dozen other birdwatchers and photographers. They were there to witness and capture an amazing sight.

Blast Off

In late fall and early winter, tens of thousands of migrating sandhill cranes and snow geese arrive at the refuge. It's a safe place for them to rest, feed and refuel for the next leg of their journey.

Each morning, at the moment of sunrise, the birds "blast off" into the skies all at once. First the sandhill cranes take flight, followed by the snow geese. It's this "blast-off" that Francoise Macomber and the others were there to see.

"You can never be the same after feeling the breeze from the wings of these majestic creatures," she says.

  • Sandhill cranes taking to the skies. Photo by Papilio/Alamy

Mystery Unsolved

How and why the birds find their way to the refuge each year is one of the mysteries of animal migration. But they're not alone. Every fall, millions of animals migrate (move to a different habitat or climate), some traveling thousands of miles to their winter homes. Then they make the return trip in the spring.

You Can Do It!

Chances are you won't see snow geese or sandhill cranes in your neighborhood. But you can still help other migrating birds along their way. Each year, millions of birds are killed by collisions with windows. They may fly toward trees they see reflected in the glass. Or the glass may look like a clear flight path to them. There are a few things you can do to keep this from happening.

  • Place bird feeders less than 3 feet or more than 30 feet from windows.
  • Hang objects like decals and wind chimes in the windows so birds will fly past them, not into them.
  • Leave window screens up year-round.
  • Some birds rely on the stars and moon to navigate. Bright lights, especially in cities, may confuse them. Close curtains and turn off lights when you leave a room. If you live in a building with many tenants, ask them to do the same.

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