For those of us who take time to reflect on the avian world, birds do amazing things.
Consider, first some of their feats in flight. A bird comes winging its way in to perch on a tree branch. It often comes flying in seemingly at top speed, and the, with adjustments we can’t see, it arrives on its intended branch with nary a misstep. Have you ever seen a bird maneuver to a perch where the landing is not successfully completed or seems unsteady? Not me, and they make the act seem so effortless.
Or consider the aerial acrobatics of a flock of birds moving together on the wing. If you’ve ever seen a murmuration of starlings maneuvering at close quarters you likely have observed them swinging, swaying and swirling in one direction and then the next in splendidly choreographed harmony. Miraculously, this pulsating, cloud-like swarm, expanding and contracting as it moves, achieves that unity without the individual birds in it ever colliding with each other. Can you imagine humans doing this? No you can’t, as anyone who drives our highways can attest. How do they do it? Recent research suggests the decision to move is triggered by a few birds turning, and that their motion is then ripples through the flock as if waves.
Migration is another source of the amazing when considering birds. First are the sheer distances these creatures travel. The arctic turn travels more than 12,000 miles each way in the course of its annual migration between its summer and winter grounds. Then there is the diminutive ruby-throated hummingbird that manages a one-way migration of anywhere from 700 to 2000 miles depending on where it breeds in the eastern U.S. It’s northward migration begins in February and, incredibly, includes for many ruby-throats a 500 mile nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico! There is no truth to the apocryphal story that hummingbirds aid their migration by hitching a ride on the backs of migrating Canada geese.
I am always filled with wonder about the birds that seem to find their way back to our home year after year. This group includes phoebes, song sparrows, chipping sparrows and broad-winged hawks. Are these really the same birds returning? There is evidence from migrant monitoring programs to suggest so. On a recent expedition to VT’s Mt. Mansfield, Chris Rimmer of the VT Center for Ecostudies captured a Bicknell’s thrush that the Center had captured there in 2011!
Birds are so much a part of our daily existence that it is easy to take what they do for granted. Yet, as these few examples illustrate, they are quite remarkable in many ways and are deserving of our observation an admiration as they go about the business of their roles in the larger creation.