As the temperature drops, millions of birds are heading south. Biologists are worried the birds will find their usual hang-outs have gone through some serious changes since the BP oil spill, but some people are working to create new habitat to help the birds.
The Mississippi Flyway is the most happening route of migration for Midwest birds. It stretches from north of Michigan all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Species such as blue green teal, herons and egrets, wood ducks, and scaup are already on the move.
Mark Robinson says it’s a long journey south.
“By the time they’ve migrated down to the Gulf they’re absolutely exhausted.”
Robinson is a birdwatcher & zoologist. He says the food birds eat in the Gulf is essential to their survival.
“If they travel on further then they’re gonna need it to cross down into South America. Or to replenish their energy if they just stay in the Gulf to travel back up north in the spring again.”
Robinson and other scientists are worried about the birds’ habitat in the Gulf. He says most of the visible oil has been cleaned up. But there is still a lot of submerged oil in wetlands and soils that can’t be seen. And the fish, plants, and insects that birds eat could be affected for years to come.
That’s why along the main cruising strip, biologists from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited are creating new pit stops, so migrating birds can rest up and fuel up.
Bob Dew is with Louisiana’s Ducks Unlimited. He’s about 15 miles from the open waters of the Gulf.
“Just off in the distance there’s a ridge with a lot of old live oak trees. In between where we’re standing is an old rice field.”
They’ve flooded what used to be a rice field and turned it into a wetland.
“You see flocks of blue winged teal of 50 to 100 to 150 birds flying around the fields and know that they’ve made a journey of over 1000 miles to get here. That’s very rewarding and very encouraging as well. Because we know that we have a very large fall flight this year and we’re expecting a lot of birds to be here.”
Dew says birds are flocking to these rice fields turned wetlands because they can find great things to eat. Like leftover rice grain and plenty of bugs.
Hundreds of farmers are getting paid to allow their fields to be flooded in the off season. These projects are funded in part, by BP.
The money is coming from the profits BP is getting from selling the spilled oil.
Organizers hoped to flood around 20 thousand acres this fall. But the response from farmers has been huge. More than 75 thousand acres have been turned into bird friendly wetlands.
But we won’t know until next spring if the project’s successful. Scientists will have a better idea after they count the birds returning home.
But if fewer birds and ducks return from the Gulf next year, it could impact Michigan’s conservation efforts. That’s because the bulk of conservation dollars comes from hunting related fees.
Brian Preston is a duck hunter in Michigan. He says his family spends their extra money on hunting. He says a lot of other duck hunters do the same.
“Buying gas, getting restaurants, buying hotels so they can sit in a marsh in the UP for two days. Then they’ll come home, go to work, and do the same thing again the next weekend.”
He says if the duck populations decrease or if the birds return unhealthy, his family might have to find new hobbies until things improve. Project organizers along the Mississippi flyway hope they’ll continue to see large numbers of birds stopping by.
Nikki Motson, The Environment Report.