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Bird migration Life-threatening flight for migratory birds

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Millions of migratory birds make their way to their summer or winter quarters twice a year. They are on the move day and night and fly thousands of kilometers. Many will never arrive because bird hunters catch millions of them every fall.

Status: May 9, 2018

The famous nightingale belongs to the passerine birds, like the sparrow. Nightingales are also migratory birds that overwinter in Africa.

Cranes, storks, geese, larks and nightingales: many bird species in Central Europe migrate to the south before the winter cold snap arrives and they can hardly find any food. On their long journey, they achieve monstrous things. But for many of the more than 50 million birds that leave their breeding grounds in Germany in autumn, bird migration also means flight to their death.

Bird hunting is illegal in many countries, but in Malta, France and some African countries, massive numbers of birds die on their way south every year. An example: Egypt. Millions of birds are caught there and sold as a delicacy in the markets.

"Around 140 million migratory birds end up in the traps of Egyptian bird hunters every fall."

Bird expert Lars Lachmann from the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU)

Rare species such as the corn corn, hoopoe and oriole are also affected by the massive killing. The illegal trapping of migratory birds has worried animal rights activists for a long time. However, the catch in Egypt has reached such proportions in terms of quantity that some bird species are threatened in their existence, explains ornithologist Lars Lachmann from the Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU).

World Migratory Bird Day

The day of the migratory birds is celebrated every year on the second Saturday in May and October. In various events and excursions, the focus is on migratory birds, their habitats and their protection. The Action Day was launched in 2006 by the United Nations.

Corn Crake: cherished and hunted

Corn Crake - acutely endangered by illegal bird trapping

As an example, Lachmann cites the corncrake, who breeds in the wet meadows of the Oder Valley in Brandenburg. In recent years, expensive projects have been developed to stabilize the wet meadows and thus the corncrake population. The birds then set out on their long-haul flight to sub-Saharan Africa in autumn. But instead of in winter quarters, they end up on the grill of an Egyptian bazaar.

Politicians intervene to protect migratory birds

But it is not just the corncrake who, according to the NABU, every 17th migratory bird ends up in Egyptian safety nets. 85 bird species breeding in Germany alone are affected. In the meantime, politicians have also intervened and tried to find a solution, which in view of the unstable situation in Egypt is currently hardly possible.

Sleep on the fly

Alpine sailors

The European Alpine swifts leave their breeding grounds in Switzerland in September and move to tropical Africa. Not only do they spend the 3,000-kilometer flight mainly in the air, but also the rest of the time. The birds are non-stop in the air for up to seven months. As the Swiss researcher Felix Liechti and his team write in "Nature Communications", the birds even seem to sleep while flying. The ornithologists had equipped six animals with transmitters that recorded the birds' physical activity. The data were analyzed after their return.

Climate change affects bird migration

Perhaps it is fortunate for some bird species that they have changed their migration habits due to climate change. Some don't fly that far in winter, others hibernate in Germany straight away. For example, more and more blackbirds do without the time-consuming and exhausting migration to the south and stay in the north even in winter. Many storks shorten their travel route and overwinter in Spain instead of in Africa. House martins are returning from North Africa to their Central European breeding areas around ten days earlier today. Birds that return earlier often start breeding earlier, such as the black redstart. Bird species such as the blackcap have developed new flight routes and taken winter quarters after just a few generations.

Late returners and long-distance migrants at a disadvantage

But climate change can also be dangerous, especially for migratory bird species, which cannot adapt to the new climatic conditions. The food situation deteriorates for these species, especially for those who return late. With climate change, the insects develop earlier than usual - and so the late migratory birds have problems feeding their brood. And they have greater competition when it comes to the territories. For long-distance migrants such as redstart, pied flycatcher, nightingale or oriole, competition will intensify.

  • Conversation with Dr. Wolfgang Fiedler, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology: Migratory Birds and Climate Change: radioWelt, December 11, 2019, 5:05 p.m., Bavaria 2
  • Migratory bird watching. Evening show - The South, 10.10.2019 at 5:30 p.m., BR television
  • Europe's changing bird migration? April 12th, 2019 at 10:25 am, BR television
  • Vogelflug - What's the secret: X: enius, ARD-alpha, 07/28/2017, 4.30 p.m.
  • "The migratory birds are coming again –1,000 aids to sit on whinchat", Bayern1 - Midday in Central and Upper Franconia, 12:05 pm
  • "Crash: The consequences of light smog for migratory birds", Weed, BR television, January 9th, 2017, 7:00 pm
  • "Adventure wilderness: The fantastic journey of the birds: North America", BR television, October 19, 2016, 10.30 am
  • "The journey of the migratory birds: an animal masterpiece", radioWissen, Bayern 2, April 16, 2015, 9:05 am and May 7, 2015, 3:05 pm
  • "The journey of the migratory birds", IQ - Science and Research, Bavaria 2, February 13, 2014, 6:05 pm
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