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ACTIVITY 6:BIRD MIGRATION

Discuss with students the concept of migration and how migration is the regular movement of animals to and from certain areas, usually during specific seasons.  Migration allows birds to live in more favorable climates and to have the largest possible source of food needed.  Before scientists knew that birds migrated in the fall, people were mystified by the fact that birds would be around one day and gone the next day.  One popular old theory said that the birds simply burrowed in the sand or mud and hibernated through the winter like a bear!  This theory seems silly today, but long ago, no one had the resources required to track birds and learn about the routes and destinations of their long flights.   

Florida's coast is located along several of the bird migration routes called flyways.  This means that during certain seasons, birders can see hundreds of species of birds in Florida that would take much traveling to find otherwise.  The long spring flights from Central and South America require the birds to cross the Caribbean waters or the Gulf of Mexico.  During these flights they often encounter cold fronts and squall (storm) lines.  Birds cannot fly in torrential rain or storm winds so they must quickly find land or die.  The closest land along the flyway route happens to be a series of Florida barrier islands that stick out into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  Birders call these islands migrant traps.  Gulf Islands National Seashore is one of the migrant traps.  In the spring, just before and after a storm, the seashore teems with all kinds of birds that would not be seen otherwise because in good weather they would fly on to their natural destination.  Birders call this phenomenon a bird fallout because the birds appear to be literally "falling" from the sky.  Once they land on the seashore coast, however, they usually spend several days resting and feeding, thereby giving local birders excellent birdwatching opportunities.  

Many migratory birds spend time on the barrier islands of Gulf Islands National Seashore resting and feeding before making that long return fall flight across the Gulf of Mexico to their southern destinations.  These birds are referred to as neo-tropical migrants because they migrate (travel) between North America and South America (which is called the neo-(new) world tropics).  Some birds travel as far north as Canada and the Arctic Circle to nest in the spring and early summer.  Other birds nest and raise their young along the Gulf of Mexico coast.  Later, they migrate for the winter to countries south of the United States where the food supply is greater and the weather warmer.  This is one of the major reasons conservation groups are trying to preserve land in the United States where the young birds are born and in the tropics where many birds

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