Migratory birds travel pretty much the same path north and south each year from nesting to wintering grounds. Geographic features such as mountain ranges tend to funnel them along general routes called flyways. In North America these are: Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic. Any particular bird species travels part of one of these routes each year, following very much the same path and very close to the same time each year. Along the flyways in the fall, there are many rest stops where birds of many species gather, sometimes in the millions, to feed and regain their strength before continuing. When they reach their destinations, they remain for the winter, surviving until the time comes to move northward again.
Every New Year’s day, my wife and I and several friends visit the Gray Lodge Waterfowl Area in northern California which provides an amazing spectacle of hundreds of thousands of birds. Thousands of acres of wetlands provide a resting place for waterfowl, cranes, shorebirds, herons, egrets, and dozens of other species. It is a great place for the beginning birdwatcher as these large and often colorful birds are easy to identify. I have taken hundreds of groups on trips there over the years – college classes, Elderhostel groups, CARD excursions, school age children, etc. and they are all enthralled. Even if one isn’t interested in birds, it’s still a spectacular sight to see thousands of Snow Geese flutter down from the skies like snowflakes-hence the Snow Goose name.
Just before the Gold Rush began, California’s population was less than 100,000 and the Central Valley was a great wetland. Today the population of California is 37 million and the wetlands severely diminished. All these wintering birds now have access to a relatively small amount of habitat and with the population of California estimated to grow to 64 million by 2035, habitats will be further threatened. Fortunately, through the efforts of the state and federal refuge system, organizations and agencies like the Nature Conservancy, land trusts, Fish and Game Easements, California Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society and conservation-minded land owners, habitats are being maintained and expanded.
But it is not just in California that waterfowl are being threatened by the expanding human population. One third of the 234 waterfowl species in the world are threatened or endangered by humanity’s quest for resources. Today humans number nearly seven billion and by 2050 will be ten billion! All these people require water and wetlands will undoubtedly be threatened. I can only hope that our legislators have the big picture in mind when they make decisions that affect wetlands and the waterfowl and other flora and fauna that depend on this and other habitats.
You might want to learn more about waterfowl and wetlands by looking at the websites of The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org/; Northern California Regional Land Trust http://www.landconservation.org/ ; Ducks Unlimited http://www.ducks.org/ and the Audubon Society http://www.audubon.org/.