So what’s so special about these birds?
To put it bluntly: if the birds are healthy, then the rain forests are healthy, North America is healthy, and we are healthy. This means that migrant birds indicate, or show, the conditions of our environment. We call them an indicator species. In the old days miners would carry canaries into mines. If the mines had poison gas in them, the canary would die or pass out before the gas affected humans. It gave the humans time to escape the mine. The canary indicated the condition of the gas in the mines. Neotropical migrant birds are just like that for us in North America. They are a like a thermometer telling us how healthy our environment is.
What’s in it for you?
Well, for one, they clean our environment by eating dead animals. This is called scavanging. A turkey vulture does that quite efficiently!
Did you know that birds are natural bug zappers. Birds eat lots of insects. By keeping the insect population low, trees are healthier because they are not being eaten as much by the insects, and so they can produce more oxygen for us oxygen-loving animals. Keeping the insect population down is also good for our health because insects can spread a lot of diseases.
Birds are also excellent plant pollinators. This means that they help plants grow by spreading the pollen that plants need to reproduce. Well-pollinated plants produce more food for us.
Another benefit is that healthy trees keep the world cooler. They are natural air conditioners, thereby preventing global warming.
And, of course, we can’t forget how beautiful they are to look at and to listen to. Neotropical migrant birds are the songbirds of North America. Without them our forests, meadows, and backyards would be virtually silent. Would you prefer to hear the sound of lawn mowers and drive-by traffic or the songs of joyful birds?
What can we do?
The single most important thing we can do to improve bird populations is to improve bird habitats. Their existance is threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation.
Where there was once a forest, there are now condos, shopping malls and parking lots. The problem is that their habitat and the string of sanctuaries along their migratory route are rapidly disappearing.
The energetic 3″ Ruby-throated hummingbird migrates from NE as far south as Costa Rica in Central America. So when this tiny fragile hummingbird is reaching day’s end and seeks shelter in a tree, but sees none, she may never reach her destination. The string of stops along their migratory route enable their migration and allow these amazing birds to exist.
Healthy habitat in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin Americas and a string of sanctuaries and lots of safe space in Canada and the United States are necessary for Neotropical migrant birds to carry on.