This migratory bird art challenge was created by Jen Goodhue on instagram for artists to join in, learning about the incredible migrations that birds found all over the world undertake, as well as some of the challenges that these birds face. So many artists participate in these art challenges, and getting to see what other artists create is a great way to see how people’s perspectives and creative outlets can spark conversations about biodiversity, habitat loss, and bird conservation.

Below are some of my #MigratoryMay illustrations, and some facts about the species that I got to learn about during this month. 

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

This insectivorous bird migrates from Central South America and into the United States. They spend their breeding season (summer), in the eastern US, returning down south for the winter. They are unique, in that during migration, a scout will be sent out as soon as the weather warms up enough. These scouts fly alone, looking for adequate breeding and nesting sites. Once the scout moves in, the rest of the colony shows up later. 

Ideally, this migratory bird enjoys making nests in dead trees, also called snags, however this type of habitat is becoming harder to come by as unsustainable development continues. By keeping dead trees as snags, as well as putting up Martin Houses, we can help increase viable habitat for these vibrant migratory birds. 

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

Climate change has been pushing bird migrations all over the place and birds have had to adapt as quickly as possible. Migration is triggered by a lack of food, so if the weather is warm enough where the bird is and can provide adequate food resources over a long period of time, the bird doesn’t need to migrate, or may need to migrate even farther to find food that is in bloom or that has emerged.

We may notice that we start seeing less and less of certain species as they adapt. We may also start seeing new bird species migrating in, too! For example, the American Goldfinch has started reducing their migration distances. This means they are less common in southeastern Pennsylvania since they don’t need to travel as far south to find food. While this can be sad, we may start seeing new species that need to travel farther north, such as the Painted Bunting, as they search for their food too! Seeing these birds regularly may take years, as adapting to climate change takes time, but it could be a neat little perk.

This migratory bird eats seeds, so having feeders up and incorporating native sedges, pines, grasses, and dock into the garden may attract them if they ever show up this far north!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea)

These migratory birds spend their breeding time in the tundra of Russia and May and June. Once a suitable site has been found, and the eggs hatch, the females leave the nest and start their migration south along the Pacific Coast of Russia into China and Bangladesh, utilizing the intertidal Yellow Sea as food sources and rest during their long migration. The male teaches the young fledglings to fly, then starts his migration south down the same route. A week or so later, the chicks gain confidence and strength, and start the same migration too! 

Unfortunately, due to habitat loss in their stopover regions in the Yellow Sea, their population is in decline and has been listed as critically endangered. Here in North America, there is only one native spoonbill, the Roseate Spoonbill, who also relies on disappearing habitat. Instead of relying on the tundra and intertidal areas along the Yellow Sea, the Roseate Spoonbill relies on brackish marine marshes and Mangroves along southeastern United States. You can learn more about the importance of mangrove conservation, and how to positively impact our US mangroves HERE.

Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)

Similarly to many other migratory birds, these birds have to adapt to the warming climate. They typically rely on cones of native conifers in Canada and the US Pacific Northwest, such as pines, spruces, firs, and others. If the weather is too warm up north, they may have something called an Irruption.

Irruptions occur when food is scarce, so birds have a sudden boom in population density farther south. Evening Grosbeak irruptions occur naturally, however with the warming northern weather, have started occurring every two or three years. During these years, we may see them as far south as southern Pennsylvania! During non-irruption years, they may migrate only as far south as southern New York, or the very northernmost points of Pennsylvania near the Great Lakes region. This is provided the conifers in these regions are producing adequate food resources. 

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