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Oriole Migration Update: April 22, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Ready, Set, Wait!! Orioles Still at the Starting Line
The first warblers, tanagers, and other neotropical migrants are starting to arrive in many places in the southern and central states now. But for the most part orioles are still waiting in the wings. We suspect that the handful of northern sightings now in our data base are mostly of overwintering birds. But we can't be sure because they're not talking!

Migration Weather Report from Dr. David Aborn
April 21, 1999
"Dear Students:

"Two weeks ago I mentioned that a cold front was going to move across the Gulf coast states and east coast that weekend. Well, the front came through and it was a great weekend for bird watchers and researchers. The rain and north winds forced migrants to land in good numbers in many states. In Texas, there were large numbers of Nashville Warblers, and Mississippi to Maryland reported a good mix of warblers, thrushes, and tanagers. Here in central Florida, I saw the first American Redstart and the first Magnolia Warbler of the spring, and Prairie Warblers were everywhere!

Effects of an Even Stronger Front
"Last week saw another front pass, but this one had even stronger north winds behind it. As it passed, many places again saw large numbers of birds landing. Texas had Cerulean Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Wood Thrushes, and Painted Buntings. Mississippi also had many warblers, along with both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, and the first Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Painted Buntings, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos in the state. Florida was just as spectacular. It rained all day Saturday, and we had north winds Saturday, Sunday, and part of Monday. There were 26 species of warblers seen in the parks near Tampa!! What a wonderful sight! By Tuesday, winds shifted from the south, so most of the birds had left.

Link to Additional UNISYS Weather Maps for April

April 17

April 18

April 21

What's Next?
So what will next week bring? Well, if you look at a weather map another cold front is moving across the country. However, this front is weaker (the winds behind it are not strong) so it probably won't force as many birds to land. In addition, if you look off the southeast coast of the US, you will see the high pressure area that made birding so good last week. The winds from this high pressure area are still strong enough to keep the front from reaching all the way down to the Gulf coast.

"So what does all this mean? It means that birds won't be forced to land until they get farther inland, so that northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, and Tennessee should have a good birding weekend, while things will be slow along the Gulf coast and Florida. Northern Orioles should be starting to migrate in greater numbers, so keep your eyes open!"

Take care!


Dr. Aborn suggested that while we wait for orioles we think about:

Challenge Question #5: "Why do you think birds fly over the Gulf of Mexico instead of going around it?"
(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below.)

How to Find Orioles

Oriole feeders help migrating orioles
For more information.

How will we recognize orioles when they arrive? These bright black and orange birds, the size of blackbirds, are eye-catching but often stay high in trees. Learn the sound of their rich, full-throated whistle. The melody and rhythm vary greatly, but the tone stays the same. If you learn the song, you will look up the moment you hear it!

(recordings courtesy of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Library of Sounds)

Here are some things that might lure orioles down for a closer look:

  • Oranges chopped in half. Hang them from trees with string, put them in special orange feeders, or simply set them on flat feeders, deck railings, etc.
  • Sugar and water (4 parts water, to 1 part sugar) in orange plastic bowls or special oriole nectar feeders and set out where orioles may notice.
  • A few spoonfuls of grape jelly in an orange plastic bowl.

Discussion of Challenge Question #3
"Name some reasons why songbirds would migrate by night rather than day."

There are actually a LOT of reasons for this. Fifth graders Brad and Bryan at Scott Young PS considered oriole navigation: "They migrate at night because they can see the stars and this tells them where to fly; they migrate at night because the northern star is out at night--one of the brightest in the sky; and, there are less obstacles at night than in the daylight."

Erika, Alyssa, and Jamie of North Albany Elm thought about several factors:

  • predation ("the oriole's predator, the hawk, can't hunt at night, but in the day has excellent vision)
  • temperature ("At night it is cooler so they don't die from heat exhaustion.")
  • wind ("At night winds die down so it makes the long flight easier for the orioles.")
  • food requirements ("By migrating at night orioles can get a big, healthy meal during the day so that they don't get tired at night.")

Discussion of Challenge Question #4:

Report Migrating Orioles, Leaf-Out and Unpave the Way Projects to Journey North!

"How do birds sense weather conditions and know whether good or bad migration weather might be coming?"

This one was tricky! Birds have an internal barometer! They can actually feel changes in air pressure in their inner ear. When the pressure goes down, birds feed a lot more, as if anticipating a storm. So birds literally have a sixth sense!

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

Please respond to only one challenge question in each e-mail message.
1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-oriole@learner.org
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #5
3. In the body of your message, answer the question

The next Oriole Migration Update will be posted on May 6, 1999.

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