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Welcoming Winter Visitors

As I See It

Friday, January 22, 2010

Media contact: Rodney Barreto

Winter is a great time in Florida.  Each time I look out my window, I see robins bobbing on the lawn, or a bird feeder, alive with brightly colored songbirds.  It reminds me how important Florida is to our winter avian visitors and, in particular, how important our conservation lands are for these species. It also brings to mind questions about why and how birds migrate.

Birds migrate south to avoid the cold, but many species of birds can tolerate cold temperatures if food is plentiful.  Biologists reason that birds migrate long distances to take advantage of seasonally abundant food and thereby increase breeding success. A warmer climate offers longer stretches of daylight and plentiful fruits and protein-rich insects, giving migratory birds the potential to raise more young.

While there are advantages to migration, the challenges for these long-distance travelers are many. Fortunately, birds are equipped with a variety of unique tools to help them find their way.  They rely on navigational cues such as the earth's magnetic fields, coastlines, mountain ranges and other topographical features and the location of the sun.  Star patterns aid those that migrate at night.  Birds also take advantage of seasonal winds, which tend to blow in directions that favor migration.

Since birds spend as much as half of the year or more en route between breeding grounds and wintering areas, the habitats they depend on during this period are critical links to their survival.  For thousands of years, Florida has offered both stopover and wintering sites for many species. Over the past century, development in this state has greatly diminished the extent and productivity of these areas.  As this trend continues, public lands and appropriately managed private lands become more important for the long-term survival of species, including many of our nonresident winter visitors.

It is said that migration is a chain only as strong as its weakest link.  Management of conservation lands by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its partners helps keep the chain strong. By preserving and enhancing habitats that provide cover and food for both resident and migratory birds, the FWC contributes to the continued survival of many species.

A healthy and diverse network of natural areas aids the birds that visit our state and the birders as well. Wintering waterfowl, thousands of sandhill cranes and flocks of songbirds entice residents and tourists to grab binoculars and field guides and explore the outdoors.  More people are enjoying natural Florida every year and economic growth based on bird watching and ecotourism is proving to be a significant source of income for many of Florida's rural areas near key birding sites and migratory stopovers.

The Great Florida Birding Trail is a project of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It offers amateur and experienced birders information on some of our most beautiful landscapes and the range of birds they are likely to see. You can find more information about birding locations in your area, as well as other wildlife-viewing opportunities, by visiting  Florida is one of the top birding locations in the nation, and this time of year, the weather is perfect for getting outdoors and enjoying the many wonders nature has to offer.

FWC Facts:
The Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail is a network of more than 500 Florida sites selected for their excellent bird-watching or education opportunities.

Learn More at AskFWC