The Birds and the Bugs: World Migratory Bird Day 2024

As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently said, “The Birds are Coming!” The world spring bird migration is underway. In our Western Hemisphere, officially this annual movement of millions and millions of birds migrating up the Atlantic Flyway begins in March and continues until June. With an advantageous location along the Flyway, Brooklyn and Manhattan, with their various parks, will host many of these beautiful and fascinating birds. Ornithologists and other professional bird people (especially photographers and educators) will be out and about throughout the city’s parks, observing and with their cameras attached to high-powered lenses, capturing unforgettable images of our feathered friends. Brooklyn has some of the best places to see the birds: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Prospect Park, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to name just a few.

The official World Migratory Bird Day is designated each year for the second Saturday in May, May 11 this year, and the second Saturday in October, October 12 this year. Educational events and bird outings will take place throughout the weekends. The event is aligned with the cyclic bird migration in different hemispheres.  

Bird migrations have fascinated cultures all around the world for centuries.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “BirdCast” predicts that May 9-14 will be the peak time to watch the migration from the New York area. “BirdCast” is a unique operation, a collaboration of scientists who use weather radar and machine learning to track and forecast bird migration. They have been monitoring nightly bird migration in the U.S. since 1999. As BirdCast points out: “During peak migration periods more than a billion birds may be in the air on a single night. It’s an awesome spectacle.”

A Brown Thrasher parent with some fresh bugs on it's way back to a nest full of four hungry offspring. Photo: Joseph Palmer

Since the life of birds is so intricately woven into the environment and man’s stewardship of that environment, this year the theme will be about the birds and the bugs. Well, the more scientifically accurate term of course would be “Insects.”  The official Conservation Theme this year is “Protect Insects, Protect Birds.”

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The adaptability of migrating birds for survival is astounding. Their stopovers are strategically sought out for water, cover, and an abundance of insects, which of course provides a super-rich protein diet and high-energy food for the parents and the offspring. The availability of insects directly influences a bird migration's success. Throughout time birds have adapted to learn how to locate these stop overs.

Birds eat millions of insects every day. Some prefer to snatch flying insects out of mid-air and some birds have adapted special beaks for the trapping and crushing of the insect.  The numbers are mind-boggling. According to research by the University of Delaware, it took 5,000-9,000 bugs to feed a brood of Chickadees. A study in the journal “The Science of Nature” estimates that around the world birds eat 400 to 500 metric tons of beetles, flies, ants, moths, aphids, grasshoppers, crickets, and other anthropoids per year, pointing out that “that’s roughly equivalent to the amount of fish and meat consumed each year by humans.”
In the US 96% of birds eat insects instead of seeds.

The important connection between insects and birds and the importance of protecting the insects is best explained on the World Bird Migratory Day Website.

“The loss and disturbance of insect populations at breeding sites and along avian migration routes threaten bird survival and well-being.

Natural spaces like forests and grasslands that have been transformed or endangered by intensive agriculture and urban development, and its effects such as light pollution can result in a decline in insect populations.

Pesticides and herbicides designed to protect crops harm insects that birds rely on for food. A scarcity of energy- and protein-rich insects can hinder bird migration and breeding, leading to weakened immune systems, reduced reproductive success, and increased mortality rates for both adult birds and their offspring. 

Birds play crucial roles in pollination and pest control, and a lack of insects disrupts these ecosystem functions. Overpopulation of certain insects, without natural predators from birds, can also cause outbreaks that damage plant health and agriculture.

The World Migratory Bird Day campaign in 2024 will stress the need for proactive conservation measures. This includes reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and where possible, switching to organic farming. Other measures include maintaining and connecting areas of natural vegetation which provide food and shelter for birds and other species in agricultural landscapes.” 

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