Millions of birds take part in the annual journeys we call migration. Most of these migratory species will spend their summers and winters in different locations, but some will travel thousands of miles to be in the right place to raise a family or find a snow-free habitat for food in winter. Here in Britain we are well-placed on the edge of a huge land-mass to witness and marvel at this migration spectacle all around our islands every year. In fact some of these migrants may be using our gardens each year as their chosen territory!
World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. It’s all about helping to raise global awareness of the threats faced by migratory birds, their ecological importance, and the need for international cooperation to conserve them. This year the theme of WMBD is plastic pollution or as the organisers put it “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!”
With an annual production of more than 300 million tons, plastic is one of the most widely used materials in the world. Most plastic is used for its main purpose for only a moment compared with its lifecycle of 20 to 500 years. Lightweight and designed to last, the discarded pieces are easily transported to ecosystems through the forces of nature causing serious threats to migratory species around the world. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year. To make matters worse, plastic doesn’t simply dissolve. Broken down into small particles by water, sunlight and wind, it often leads to lethal cases of ingestion and entanglement. Sadly, having wings does not help birds escape the threat of plastic. Dead chicks with stomachs full of plastic, entangled and smothered by plastic rings and nets are all too real consequences of the toll that plastic takes on birds and other wildlife.
Migratory birds come in many shapes and sizes from the humble garden Robin to soaring Eagle species with two metre wingspans, from shorebirds that almost traverse the world from top to bottom to tiny warblers that make ocean crossings despite weighing just a few grams. Migration is a real natural miracle and many of the birds you are familiar with in the garden are part of this migration miracle.
Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere gives us a great opportunity to see migration in action, the Swallows and House Martins zipping around Spring skies here in Britain may have spent the winter deep in the African continent catching insects disturbed by the feet of Zebras and Wildebeest but they make the huge journey north, crossing the Sahara in the process to raise their families here in Britain. Around our coasts Arctic Terns are arriving that may have spent the northern winter in the southern oceans around Antarctica and completed a 19,000km migration journey!