Chesapeake Bay Field Office -- That's for the Birds      

Birds are the nomads of the animal world, ceaselessly traveling with the change in seasons. It must be the burden they carry for the gift of flight. Though some birds remain in one area throughout the year, most are condemned to constantly move, following their food source.

In the fall as the climate gets cooler, birds that feed exclusively on insects, fruit or pollen must migrate to more temperate climates of Central and South America. As warmer weather returns to North America, so do the birds.

More than 360 species of birds make this annual migration to follow their food back to their breeding grounds. This includes the following species:

  Wood Thrush - usfws photo
Wood thrush. USFWS photo


  • warblers
  • thrushes
  • tanagers


  • sandpipers
  • plovers
  • terns


  • hawks
  • kites
  • vultures


  • mallards
  • teal
  • black ducks
    Scarlet Tanager - USFWS photo
Scarlet tanager - USFWS photo
Some of these birds are common to us - the American robin, Eastern bluebird, ruby-throated hummingbird, gray catbird, purple martin, barn swallow and chimney swift. Others, such as the red-eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, wood thrush and Cape May warbler, may be familiar only to bird watchers.

Bird watchers - USFWS photo
Bird watching - USFWS photo

Caterpillar - USFWS photo
Caterpillar - USFWS photo
Birds are our best natural insect control, eating tons of insects every year. As green leaves emerge in the spring, so do millions of caterpillars and insects. Coinciding with this event, an array of birds return to feast on a smorgasbord of insects.        

All of these activities generate money through the sales and services such as travel, lodging and meals. Americans spent $40 billion in expenses related to wildlife watching activities!

Despite their importance, many bird species are declining. Large tracts of fields, forests and wetlands are disappearing as the result of development. Although public lands like refuges and parks are extremely important to migrating birds, they cannot provide the habitat that birds need. Approximately 71% of the nation is privately owned, so individual homeowners can dramatically improve resting and breeding habitat for birds.

What can you do for the birds?

  • Create Backyard Habitat : By planting native vegetation, homeowners can provide food and cover for birds and other wildlife. Plant a variety of trees, shrubs and plants and remember to provide a source of water.
  • Try Shade-Grown Coffee : Wintering habitats in Central and South America are also being altered. If you’re a coffee lover, consider buying shade-grown coffee. Coffee grown on clear-cut plantations destroys critical wintering habitat for migratory birds.
  • Keep Cats Indoors : There are at least 68 million pet cats in the United States . Birds make up 20–30 percent of outdoor cats’ prey. Cat owners can reduce the number of birds killed simply by keeping their cats indoors.
  • Reduce Chemical Use : Pesticides are often harmful for birds. While pesticides are intended to control specific pests, some harm or kill non-target species. Contact your state university’s cooperative extension service for more information about low impact solutions to pest problems.

For more information:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office Migratory Birds

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Birds, Birds, Birds

Birdwatching opportunities

Red-winged Blackbird - USFWS photo Red-winged Blackbird - USFWS photo  
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