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Did you know that in the spring, millions of birds leave their winter homes in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean islands, and South America and fly all the way to the United States and Canada? Facing the dangers of bad weather and predators, and the problem of finding safe places to rest and eat along the way, they make this long journey to raise a family.
In the fall, after they've finished raising a family, they return to their winter homes. This seasonal travel from one place to another is called migration. Scientists call the kinds of birds that make these incredible journeys Neotropical migratory birds. Read about some of these feathered travelers and color pages by clicking on the illustration.
Home-Away-From-Home in the Rain Forest
Born less than three months ago in a forest in the United States, this Wood Thrush has just arrived in its winter home in the lush, tropical rain forest of Tikal, Guatemala. Tikal is the site of an ancient Mayan city. The Mayans were some of the first people ever to live in what is now Mexico and Central America. Flying alone and at night, it took over two weeks to get here.
Sharing the forest with many other animals that live there year-round, such as the toucan flying overhead and the coatimundi on the ground below, this will be home until April. Then it will be time to return to the United States to raise a family.
Most songbirds migrate at night. That way they can rest and feed during the daytime. Flying at night also may be safer because there aren't as many predators active at night as during the day, and because the winds are calmer and the temperatures are cooler. Sometime this spring or fall when you are tucked snugly in your bed at night, think about the migratory birds flying across the starlit sky above!
Birds and Chocolate
Did you know that chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree which grows in the rain forest? In Costa Rica and other tropical countries, farmers plant cacao trees in big gardens inside the rain forest. Because of the many trees, some migratory birds—such as this American Redstart —find that chocolate gardens make a "home, SWEET, home"!
The fruits of a cacao tree grow right out of the trunk and the branches. The fruits turn from green to bright yellow or red when they are ripe. Each fruit contains 30-40 seeds that are as big as almonds. The seeds are surrounded by a sweet and delicious white coating which in some places is made into a drink. Next time you bite into a piece of chocolate, think about where it came from and the birds that make their homes there!
A Feast for Hungry Birds
In May, more than a million shorebirds, such as these Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones, come to the beaches of Delaware Bay in the eastern United States to "pig out" on horseshoe crab eggs. Many of these birds begin their trip each spring very far away in South America. Their goal is to get way up into northern Canada.
After traveling for about two weeks, they finally take a needed break when they get to Delaware Bay—just when the horseshoe crabs are crawling out of the water and onto the sand to lay thousands of tiny eggs. For the birds, these eggs make a great feast! The birds stay there for one to two weeks and eat so much that they double their weight. They then have enough "fuel", in the form of fat, to fly the rest of the way to Canada and get started right away with the job of raising their young.
Life on the Edge…of the Forest
It's getting harder and harder for migratory birds to find safe places to build their nests. Birds that build their nests in grasslands or wetlands are in trouble because so much of their habitat has been turned into farms or towns. Birds that depend on forests, especially songbirds, are having problems, too. In some places, whole forests are cut down, leaving no trees for songbirds to build their nests in. In other places, some trees are left standing. But then, instead of one large area of forest, what's left are smaller pieces, or fragments, of the forest. This means that wherever a bird builds its nest, it is going to be near the edge of the forest.
Being near the edge is a problem for two reasons. Predators that eat eggs and baby birds, such as raccoons, squirrels, blue jays, crows, and house cats, are common at the edges of forests too. The birds have less of a chance of hiding from these predators if they are close to the edge. Cowbirds also live near the edge of forests. Cowbirds sneak into other songbirds' nests and lay their eggs. When a baby cowbird hatches, it is much bigger and it grows much faster than the other birds in the nest. Sometimes it pushes the other baby birds out of the nest, and sometimes it will eat all the food so that the other baby birds die. Can you find the cowbird in this Hooded Warbler's nest?
The entire bilingual coloring book, Feathered Travelers: Neotropical Migratory Birds of the Americas, is available for purchase.