Diggings logo

WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

About Songbirds

by Heather Bateman


Where do songbirds come from?

Over half of the birds found in North America spend only a portion of their time here. The rest of the year they live in Mexico or Central and South America. Ornithologists call these birds neo-tropical migrants, meaning that they migrate from the tropics and travel hundreds to thousands of miles to reach their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada.

Why do birds migrate?

Migratory birds travel from the tropics to breed and raise their young here in the north. The tropics are lush and rich with food. But they are also rich with predators and other birds competing for the same resources. By migrating to North America they can take advantage of more food and more places to nest. Have you ever been to Alaska in the summer? If you have, then you know about the mosquitos! Insects are a major food source for these migrating birds.

Why are migratory bird populations declining?

The number one factor for population declines is the loss of habitat or habitat fragmentation in the tropics and in North America. As more forest and river bottoms are cleared or surrounded by development, less habitat is available. Here in North America it is very important to protect habitat along streams and shorelines because migrating birds use these areas as they travel north for feeding and breeding. Another factor for bird declines is predation from house cats. Some ornithologist estimate that our domestic cats kill millions of songbirds every year! Cowbird parasitism also impacts songbird populations. Female cowbirds find another bird’s nest and lay their egg in it. The unsuspecting host mother bird then incubates the cowbird egg and feeds the baby cowbird. This is why ornithologists call cowbirds “nest parasites.”

Ways to Protect Songbirds

1. Maintain habitat diversity.

2. Protect riparian vegetation along waterways and wetlands.

3. Retain and create snags and wildlife reserve trees.

4. Establish native trees, shrubs and seed mixtures

5. Protect mid to lower canopy level vegetation.

6. Limit herbicide use.

7. Install and maintain nest boxes as a short-term habitat enhancement.

8. Limit forest management activities duringbreeding season.

Excerpted with permission from:
Manuwal, D; Creighton, J; Hanley, D. Managing Forest Habitats for Migrant Songbirds.Woodland, Fish and Wildlife Misc. Bulletin 0198, WSU Cooperative Extension.

<----previous article...Diggings Sept 2002...next article---->