Spring migration, one of nature's greatest annual journeys, is underway as billions of migratory birds leave their wintering grounds and head north toward seasonal food sources and favorite nesting spots.
But this high-endurance pilgrimage isn't without danger. Outdoor cats, poorly placed communication towers, unforgiving and — to birds — invisible glass surfaces, and pesticide-laced plants all await. Add to that an ongoing crisis of habitat loss and it's no mystery why so many birds fail to reach their destinations during spring migration.
The good news is that all of us can take steps to make migration a little safer. Even better, many of these activities are simple, free, and require only a few minutes. To get started, have a look at our staff's top 10 suggestions — and find the solutions that work for you.
"Hundreds of millions of birds in the U.S. die from hitting glass every year – almost half of those on home windows. Luckily, there are many ways to make your windows safe for birds. One of my favorite methods is applying tempera paint to the outside surface of glass. Tempera is nontoxic, cheap, easy to use (and remove) and amazingly long lasting — even in rain. If you're short on time, using a sponge is a good way to make a quick pattern. With a little more effort, you can create spring-themed designs or even small works of art depicting your favorite birds; either will help prevent collisions. Remember: Whatever kind of design you use, make sure your lines are no more than two inches apart to help smaller birds avoid collisions."
Chris Sheppard – Bird Collisions Campaign Director
"The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation affecting birds in the U.S. But a new government position asserts that the MBTA does not address unintentional harm that industrial activities cause to birds, effectively letting business off the hook. This move will have a negative impact on bird populations and hurt bird conservation, but that's not all. It also puts our public heritage as the owners and stewards of our nation's birds at risk. You can help protect this important law by signing ABC's online petition."
David Wiedenfeld – Senior Conservation Scientist
"Cats are lovable pets, but they're also instinctive predators. One cat alone may kill up to 55 birds each year. It all adds up! So keep your cat on a leash or in an enclosure to protect migratory birds (and keep your cat safe, too). Don't have a cat? You can still support bird-friendly practices in your community by encouraging the passage of local ordinances mandating responsible pet ownership. Learn more about other simple actions you can take to protect birds on our Cats Indoors page."
Grant Sizemore – Director of Invasive Species Programs
"I've packed my quarter-acre lot in suburban Maryland with dozens of the same native plant species you might see in nearby woods. There's a “mini meadow” of asters, goldenrods, and native grasses and a tiny woodland of native viburnums, hollies, and other berry-producing shrubs that birds love. But the most important way I support my local birdlife is by learning to love insects. Even seed-eating birds can't live without insects, since their nestlings need protein-rich caterpillars to thrive. My yard is a “pesticide-free zone” and I prioritize plants that support the most insect species, using Douglas Tallamy's research on plant-insect interactions as a guide. Some of them, like wild cherry , feed more than 450 species of moths and butterflies in the mid-Atlantic region."
Clare Nielsen – Vice President of Communications
"Roughly 7 million birds die every year in North America from collisions with communication towers. Many of these deaths are caused by towers' steady burning lights, which attract birds. The simple solution is to use flashing lights as they pose little danger to birds. But sometimes owners need to hear from concerned citizens before making the switch. Giving them a nudge is now easier with the release of the new SongbirdSaver app. The app identifies potentially dangerous communication towers near you and provides contact information for their owners. And because SongbirdSaver can pinpoint towers along common migration routes, spring is a great time to get started."
Steve Holmer – Vice President of Policy
"I purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp,” every year to support conservation funding and support bird conservation. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 98 cents of every dollar spent purchasing Federal Duck Stamps is used to acquire and protect habitat or purchase conservation easements. These efforts support not just migratory waterfowl, but other migratory birds as well."
Conor Marshall – Associate, Communications, Policy and Operations
"You can provide habitat for birds during spring migration by letting things around the house get a little messy. I have a wooded backyard, so I try to leave it as natural as possible. I let the understory grow and pull invasive plants such as Japanese stiltgrass and garlic mustard. I leave logs and fallen branches in place to shelter insects and other small critters that birds feed on.
When larger trees break or fall, I leave them be — as long as they're not hanging over the roof. This gives snag-nesting migrants like Great Crested Flycatcher places to nest — as along with year-round residents like Eastern Screech-owl and Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers — and is a nice source of grubs and other bird food."
Gemma Radko – Communications and Media Manager
"As temperatures rise, many of us begin heading to the beach. And we're not alone: this is a critical time for several migratory species — I'm thinking of Black Skimmers, Snowy Plovers and Least Terns — that lay their eggs in the sand and are particularly vulnerable. One of the biggest challenges they face are unleashed dogs. Our team in the Gulf Coast region team has seen loose dogs eat eggs and take chicks. This is a big problem considering that nearly all of these birds have declining populations. The obvious solution is to leash dogs. As our team likes to say, 'Bird-friendly beaches have dogs on leashes!'”
Kacy L. Ray – Gulf Conservation Program Manager
"Put out those hummingbird feeders during spring migration — the hummers are arriving. Be sure to use a mixture of four parts water to one part sugar. And do without the dye: Red dyes serve no purpose. Most hummingbird feeders already have enough color on them to attract hummingbirds, and, even worse, these dyes contain petroleum that may be harmful to hummingbirds. Don't forget to change the mixture often to be sure it's fresh and safe for those super-charged flying jewels."
EJ Williams – Vice President, Migratory Birds & Habitats
"I have younger nieces and nephews in Wisconsin, and when I visit them during spring migration, I like to make sure they get outside, where I can introduce them to birds: Mr. Blue Jay. Mr. Cardinal, Mrs. Common Yellowthroat. Introducing birds to kids at a young age can instill a desire to explore the natural world. And that's only one benefit. It also helps children bond with wildlife and develop an environmental ethic that will, hopefully, remain with them for the rest of their lives. I'm hoping one of my nieces or nephews will be the John Muir of 2030!”
Andrew Rothman – Migratory Bird Program Director