the groundhog; the birds have been saying spring is on its way! Robins
and cardinals have been singing here in Tennessee for several weeks,
and the bluebirds have started checking out nest boxes. The most exciting
sign, however, was seeing the first Purple Martin of the year on Monday! Martins
and swallows are the first migrants to return in the spring, so it’s
a sign that spring migration will soon be here!
How to Read a Weather Map
As I am sure you are aware, weather plays a very important role
in bird migration. This spring, I will teach you how to read a weather
map to try to predict areas of the country that might see large numbers
of migrants landing. Let's start by looking at the general features of
a weather map. Look for these features on the map below:
The H's and L's represent
high and low pressure centers, areas of swirling air. The air
around a high pressure center circulates clockwise.
around a low pressure system moves counter-clockwise.
colored lines represent fronts: dividing lines
between cold and warm air; Blue lines represent cold
fronts, with warm air in front (to the right of) the line
and cold air behind (to the left of) it. The red
lines are warm
fronts, with colder air in front of it and warm air behind.
Today's Map: No high pressure systems.
Migration Depends on Right Weather
So what does this all mean for birds? Watch the high pressure
systems. Birds want to fly with a tailwind to help them travel farther.
In the spring, this means winds moving south to north. Headwinds,
wind moving north to south (in spring), make it too difficult for
birds to fly, so they are forced to land. Bad weather, such as heavy
rain, also forces birds to land. Since highs follow cold fronts,
birds will be forced to land immediately following the passage of
a cold front. After the high has moved east, usually a day or two
later, the birds have tailwinds and take off again. So why don't
birds use low pressure systems? The reason is that low pressure systems
often bring bad weather with them, so even though the winds may be
right, flying conditions are not good.
While it is too early for a lot of migrants to be showing up, let's
practice reading this week's weather map:
high pressure area is off the east coast. It is far enough east
of the eastern
US is experiencing southerly winds. That means any migrants
around would have good flying weather and would be able to head
cold front is in the center of the country. It
is bringing some rain and
strong north winds
to those areas. Any migrants would be forced to land for a day
or two, and bird watchers and researchers would be able to
see a lot of
in their area. As
the cold front moves east, it will draw up a lot of moisture
from the Gulf of Mexico and bring rain to the eastern US
by Friday and Saturday. (We are expecting 1-3 inches in my
means this weekend will be good for birding.
low pressure center is in the western US, but
no rain is with it. The southerly winds would allow migrants
keep flying north until they got to northern California.
where that cold front is starting to bring rain to the Pacific
Northwest, so birds would be forced to land.
off your binoculars and start practicing; it will only be a couple
of weeks before migration starts to pick up. I will be keeping my eyes
open this week for more early migrants, like that martin, and let you
know what I see.
Chickamauga Creek Conservancy