Traveling
with Neotropical Migratory Birds

From South of the Border: Tropical Travelers Coming Your Way
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Background
Pick up any field guide to North American birds and flip through the pages. Of the hundreds of bird species you'll see, fewer than half remain in the U.S. and Canada during the winter months. Every fall, approximately 350 of the 660 bird species that breed in North America head south of the U.S. border to spend the winter.

Scientists refer to these birds as "neotropical migrants", or just "neotrops". (The word "neo" means new and "tropical" refers to the region between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. This region includes such places as Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and parts of South America.)

Which species are "neotropical migrants"? Surprisingly, the maps in few field guides show the winter range of each species--as if they simply disappear! (The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds is one good guide that does give this information.) Here's a list of 160 of the 350 neotropical migrants:

Activity
A. Conservationists are concerned about some neotropical migratory species because fewer and fewer numbers return each summer. For background information about this conservation issue read "Silence of the Songbirds" in the June 1993 issue of National Geographic (pages 68-90).

B. Using our list of Neotropical Migratory Birds and a field guide as resources, determine which neotropical migrants breed in your state or province.

C. Using input from your class, choose a neotropical migrant that is found in your state or province to study as a class. (Older students might want to form groups and study more than one species.)


Discussion
Questions
1. Why do you think so many bird species go to the Neotropics for the winter?

2. How does bird diversity in your area change through the seasons? Write descriptive paragraphs comparing the sounds of summer with the sounds of the middle of winter in your region.



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