Wildlife on the Move: How to Help Migratory Species This Fall

Virginia is a major stopover point for migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway – a naturally occurring “super highway” that stretches the entire length of the eastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Appalachian Mountains to the west. Each fall, millions of birds travel through the Commonwealth on their way to and from their breeding and wintering grounds.

Map by American Bird Conservancy 

According to David Carr, UVA Research Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences, and Director of the Blandy Experimental Farm, “The neotropical migrants (birds that breed in the US or Canada but winter in Mexico or south to South America) represent the largest group of Virginia migratory birds. These include waterfowl, nightjars, hummingbirds, swifts, cuckoos, rails, grebes, herons, hawks, and falcons, but the biggest groups of neotropical migrants are the shorebirds (over 50 species) and songbirds (well over 100 species).”

Front desk staff at the Wildlife Center report that some of these species have been admitted in greater numbers during the past month, indicating that migration season is well underway.

Migratory birds play an important role in Virginia’s ecosystems, helping to control insect populations, pollinate plants, and disperse seeds. They also provide wonderful opportunities for viewing wildlife in their natural habitats! Many popular birding spots in Virginia are accessible to the public via state- and federally-managed lands, including:

Unfortunately, many migrants will not reach their final destinations this fall. Their journeys are perilous and added pressures from human-related activities result in many individuals sustaining life-threatening injuries along the way.

As our veterinary and rehabilitation staff work tirelessly to give recently admitted migratory species the best possible chances of survival, consider the following tips to help migratory species yourself:

  • Create or restore habitat for wildlife. Migratory birds need places to rest, eat, and raise their young. You can help by creating or restoring habitat in your own backyard or community. Plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers that attract birds, leave some dead trees and branches for nesting and roosting and avoid using harmful pesticides.
  • Turn off outdoor lights around your home after sunset. Migratory birds flying at night can become disoriented by bright lights and collide with buildings or other structures.
  • Avoid using glue traps for pest control entirely. These types of traps are inhumane, indiscriminate, and often lethal for non-target species that are inadvertently caught.
  • Be careful when driving, and never litter near roadways. Each year, the Wildlife Center admits hundreds of patients – including migrating birds – that are hit by cars. Often, these animals were searching for food along the roadside when they were struck by a vehicle. Food items and food or beverage containers should never be discarded on the side of the road. They will attract wild animals to a very dangerous place and put the animals at risk of being seriously injured or killed.
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Migratory birds moving into an area are often physically stressed and in unfamiliar territory, reducing their ability to escape predation. Keep cats indoors – it’s better for the cat, and safer for all wildlife.
  • Educate others about bird conservation! Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about the importance of protecting migratory birds, and encourage them to take steps to help birds in their own backyards and communities.

Looking for more information about migrating birds, the dangers they may face along the way, and what Center staff are doing to help? Watch Untamed Episode 2011: Bird Migration – a made-for-television series co-produced by the Wildlife Center of Virginia and Virginia Public Media. Don’t forget to check out additional videos and resources in the Bird Migration compendium!

By following these tips, you can help to protect migratory birds in Virginia and beyond. Happy fall!