It’s that time of year again. Birds, first by the thousands then by the millions, are starting to move north. Do you marvel at how these balls of fluff can manage the remarkable feat of flying, sometimes thousands of miles, to our area? How do they do it? How did these extreme migratory habits come about?

I was just in Mississippi visiting family and saw several types of birds I knew would soon move north. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers I saw might, like me, end up back in Western Maine.

I also couldn’t help but worry about the difficulties birds face when undertaking these journeys.  Some fly straight across the Gulf of Mexico in a non-stop push. If they encounter storms or headwinds, it means almost certain death. Yet still they come.

Many birds migrate at night. It’s possible they’ve evolved to use the light from stars and the moon to help them navigate. Unfortunately, evolution couldn’t anticipate what primitive humans would eventually build. High sky-scrapers, towers, power lines and other buildings represent dangerous obstacles. Last week, my wife ran across a stunned woodcock on a Boston Street (pictured). Commuters gathered around waiting for Animal Control in hopes that the bird could be helped. Unfortunately, collisions mean the end of up to a billion birds annually and put this bird’s chances of making it north in doubt.

Here in Bethel, we don’t have skyscrapers. But, there are steps we can consider to prevent window strikes. Birds often can’t distinguish reflections of the forest from the real thing. There are products you can put on window exteriors to decrease this risk. Also, a simple step is to keep your bird feeders more than 30 feet from your windows.

However, even our best efforts can’t eliminate all the ways our buildings and night lights  present challenges for migrating birds. One night last spring I heard what sounded like a limb scraping against an upstairs window screen. The light from my upstairs window, like a beacon, had attracted a migrating Least Flycatcher. It flew repeatedly into the screen. When my flashlight beam landed on it, the bird whirled and flew straight at me. It thumped into me and fluttered onto the deck. I was able to catch the bird, douse the house lights and release it into the forest.

Least Flycatchers migrate from Central America and nest in our area. Hopefully this one went on to raise a family and will repeat its migratory journey again this year. I’ll make sure to turn off lights as much as possible this spring.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

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