The Perils of Bird Migration

Migration is a risky business, as I’ve had the chance to experience vicariously this fall via Osprey’s Journey, a website I helped design that is tracking the migration of an osprey from Jamaica Bay in New York to South America. He goes by the name of Coley and though I’ve never seen him in the flesh, I’m half in love with him by now.

Northeastern osprey travel thousands of miles over two to three weeks to reach their winter homes. (Coley’s journey was 2,600 miles long.) Any storm along the way poses a risk. The Caribbean crossing during hurricane season is a particular danger.

In the U.S. osprey and nearly a thousand other birds are protected from hunting — or any type of “taking” or possession — by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a wonderful law passed in 1918 when bird populations were plummeting due to the feather trade. (Oh, for another strong wildlife law like that now!) In the Caribbean and South America, they can be shot down without penalty, and often are.

Threats encountered by other bird species include getting eaten by predatory birds (not osprey — who stick to fish), light pollution and habitat loss from development.

Birds also face habitat loss on their home ground. In fact, the most important songbird nursery in North America, located in the boreal forests of Canada, is currently endangered by the proposed Keystone tar sands pipeline.

Read On a Wing and a Prayer for the story of Coley’s journey.
Act Now to save the Canadian songbird nursery.


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17 Responses to The Perils of Bird Migration

  1. Margaret October 24, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    I really enjoyed this article and am passing it along to my mom, an avid bird watcher.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a blessed day!

  2. monna hillard October 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    So glad I signed up. President Obama needs to see this.

  3. Zyxomma October 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Lovely post! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Connie Beroza October 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    While scientists study bird migration to figure out the whys and wheres, to me it is one of earth’s greatest mysteries. Whether it’s the oh-so-common Canada goose moving across the sky in distinctive V’s, or the smallest ruby-throated hummingbird who makes that final visit to the nectar feeder in my yard on a cool September day, or the majestic turkey vulture soaring over my house, I say a prayer and wish her a safe journey south. My favorite book on the subject is “Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds” by Scott Weidensaul. And, the feature-length documentary film “Winged Migration” is must-see as it follows small and large birds over the course of a whole round-trip cycle of migration. We can participate in this majestic journey by making every effort to insure that the habitats they require all along their migration routes are protected.

    • Sheryl November 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      Connie, thank you for the book and film recommendations. Sheryl

  5. Elizabeth October 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Dear Sheryl, As a long time lover of ospreys, I thought your post about Coley’s journey was wonderful. I agree that conservation efforts need to expand, so that migrating birds are safe throughout their unbelievably long habitat spans. How can we be part of making that happen?

    • Sheryl November 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      Elizabeth, there are so many ways to help. Let me throw out a few.

      – If you’re a coffee drinker, buy “bird-friendly” coffee, which is coffee grown on plantations that provide bird habitat. Learn about it here:

      – Get involved in one of the citizen science projects designed to raise knowledge and understanding about birds. See the programs organized by the Cornell’ Lab of Ornithology at

      – Support the Nature Conservancy’s Migratory Bird programs – which seek to protect migratory bird habitat —

      – Sign up to become a Biogems Defender with NRDC. You will be notified by email when there are actions you can take to protect migratory birds and other wildlife —

      Hope one of these works for you.

      Thanks for asking.

      Best, Sheryl

  6. Sarah October 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm #


    This is my very first issue of This Green Life and I was totally captivated by the story of Coley’s journey.

    What an amazing miracle that bird is–as is all of life!

    Imagine travelling an average of 250 miles in a day, powered by your own life force!
    I’m lucky I can do that in an automobile…

    Thank you!

  7. Andrea Friedmann October 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    This is my first issue, and I love this story! Thank you!

  8. Helen J. Stockwell October 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I really liked the Osprey story and will continue to follow it, and all the other great things on the website. Keep up the good work, and thanks for all you do!!

  9. Ann Rothschild October 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Thank you for your lovely story of Coley–I hope he makes it. This personal story certainly ramps up the interest and involvement of us birdlovers. Interestingly, I just had a mailing from The Nature Conservancy detailing the dangers overseas for migrating birds and bats–especially the White Nose Syndrome in bats. Saving our planet’s species is certainly a global concern. Yes, “Winged Migration” was an important and beautiful film–should be required viewing in all schools. Melissa Walker’s book “Reading the Environment” is a fabulous source of informative and lyrical essays, as is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Small Wonder.”

    • Sheryl November 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      Ann, thanks much for these additional recommendations.


  10. Laura October 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Thank you for sharing. I love the connection you have a d the map really shows the great distance of migration.

  11. Tamara October 25, 2012 at 4:28 am #

    This is my first issue too and I loved the story of Coley. I live in Australia and rehabilitate native Aussie birds so it was a lovely blog to read. Habitat protection and education are so important. I look forward to hearing how he is doing…fingers crossed!

  12. Maddy October 27, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    Wonderful story. Thank you!

  13. Melody S. Pace November 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    This was my first issue and I loved it. I will share with all the old hippies hitting retirement and wanting to “go back to the garden.” I can’t wait for more. Thank you for what you do.

    M.S. Pace

  14. Connie Beroza November 19, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Hi. I receive comments on this thoughtful article so I was reminded to write in again to tell you about a great resource – Journey North. It appears to have been started to engage school children, but it’s open to any of us. I have participated for a few years and have reported my observations about a variety of migrators in the spring, summer and fall, and other types of observations throughout the year and have enjoyed reading other observers’ notes, as well as the interesting articles. I highly recommend it!