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World Migratory Bird Day

Terry Rich

World Migratory Bird Day art by Anna Rose

The birding world is full of annual events. These include hundreds of birding festivals

and various days during which birders count birds for some particular purpose.


One of the older events is World Migratory Bird Day It is officially celebrated on the second Saturday of May in Canada and the US (May 11th in 2024), and the

second Saturday of October (October 12, 2024) in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.


World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) offers educational content for teaching people

about birds and bird conservation. This year’s theme, “Protect Insects, Protect Birds” focuses on the critical role of insects in the nutrition of birds and what we can do to ensure our own properties are healthy environments for insects.


Many of us are not too keen on “insects,” and may envision all sorts of objectionable creatures in our yards. The truth is that very few of them are a problem for humans, especially in the relatively dry climate of southwestern Idaho. I cringe every time I see one of those tank trucks full of poison spraying around a neighbor’s house. These chemicals destroy far more good bugs than bad ones, and they pose hazards to human health as well. Don’t do it. Most bird species eat insects at some time during the year. Even hummingbirds, which are famously fond of nectar, do a lot of fly catching. Many species increase their capture of insects so that they can deliver more protein to nestlings. A vegetarian diet can go a long way for adults, but developing young often need the extra fat and protein that comes from these invertebrates.


Cliff Swallow by Ken Miracle


Our behavior around our properties can directly assist the insect population to benefit

birds just as we can do by keeping cats indoors and preventing window collisions. As I already mentioned, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides is a big one. Another step within our power is to plant native flowering and fruiting species. They are more likely to host native insects that become bird food. And most of these you will never even see. The ones we do see are apt to be pollinators such as bees and butterflies – a wonderful addition to any flowerbed, garden, or yard.


Don’t rake! Leaf litter provides habitat for countless species as well as fertilizing your

garden and flower beds. I was dismayed to recently see a landscaping company blowing all the leaves and litter from around many blocks of condos and apartments in southeast Boise. What was left was bare dirt and scattered exotic evergreen shrubs – worthless. Yes, we typically have to remove leaves from our lawns if we need bluegrass for some reason – grandchildren, for example. But the leaves around the edges, in the garden, and in the flowerbeds can be left alone.


Barn Swallow feeding young by Terry Rich


World Migratory Bird Day has been in place since 1993 when the Smithsonian Migratory

Bird Center, one of the early partners in Partners in Flight, created International Migratory Bird Day. This was the centerpiece for the education component of Partners in Flight. The idea was to create a clearinghouse for education and communication materials that pertain to bird conservation.


As the interest in International Migratory Bird Day expanded over the years, it also expanded over the globe. For many years, the date of this annual event was the 2nd Saturday in May, as it is this year. This date works well for the continental U.S., but does not work well for Mexico, Peru, or basically any location south of the U.S. The farther south you go, the earlier birds migrate and the larger the number of species that don’t migrate at all. Many species of the tropics are residents – they stay in the same place all year – much like our house finches. Unlike our finches, a given species in the tropics may nest in any month.


Bank Swallow by Mary Miller Rumple


Since 2007, International Migratory Bird Day has been coordinated by Environment for

the Americas. In 2018, that organization joined other global bird conservation partnerships to create a single, global bird conservation education campaign. The name of the event was then changed to World Migratory Bird Day. There are now over 700 events and programs dedicated to introducing people to birds and bird conservation.


One of the cool things that WMBD does every year is to choose an artist to create art that

will best illustrate the year’s theme. This year’s winning artist is Anna Rose. Anna is not only a

terrific artist, but she has also conducted research on the nesting ecology of warblers and

thrushes at Ohio State University. Every year, I look forward to discovering yet more fantastic

art that I had not been aware of before. You can see more of her work here. You can find dozens of great products at the World Migratory Bird Day website named above. I have a t-shirt from each year since 1993, and many of these remain in permanent circulation. Several others have been worn out. You will also find pins, patches, hats, books, tea towels, temporary tattoos (a big hit among younger kids), games, bracelets, Bird Friendly coffee,

socks, water bottles, materials to prevent window collisions, and many other products literally too numerous to mention.


Common Nighthawk by Patty Pickett


May is my favorite month of year because most of “our” birds have returned from the

tropics, and they’re singing their brains out. There are also a few species still migrating to the

north and yet other species moving around looking for the right place to nest. While enjoying the best birding of the year, we can also think about how good our properties can be for birds and take action on that front. Migratory birds will stop almost anywhere they can find a bit of good habitat to rest and eat. You can make your yard one of those places. Grab your bins, pull up a lawn chair, and see what you have attracted and who you

have helped.

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