Migrating Birds on the Move

– What’s Flying Overhead and Why?

It’s fall – wildlife are on the move! September means dropping temperatures, shorter days, and the need to find new food resources. While tarpon make some of the longest migrations in the fish world—as far as 1,500 miles in a season—many different species of birds travel much farther to survive, usually right along our coasts and sometimes in plain sight.

Florida is surrounded on three sides by water, acting as a funnel for birds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean each season. For most, these perilous, long-distance marathons require tremendous amounts of energy. South Florida serves as fueling station and a critical jumping-off point for many species.

American White Pelicans are huge, white-and-black birds with wingspans more than nine feet in length. Each spring and fall, giant flocks slowly soar high overhead in eye-catching formations between wintering areas along the Gulf coast and breeding grounds west of the Mississippi River. They often stop along shallow coastal bays and inlets to rest on sand bars and catch small, schooling fish.

Anglers also frequently encounter Barn Swallows on the water. Very different from pelicans, these insect-eating birds are tiny, and they migrate individually, often only a few feet above the water’s surface. Barn Swallows birds breed across much of northern North America, from Canada to Mexico, and spend winters in locations from Central America south to the tip of Argentina.

We can keep birds safe during their migration by turning lights off at night (the lights can confuse them), protecting habitat they need to rest and refuel on their journeys, and using native plants in our yards to provide birds on the move with important food.

Learn more about migration and see the entire flight paths of hundreds of species with the Bird Migration Explorer from Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative and partners at explorer.audubon.org.