Explore Articles

Spotlight: International Migratory Bird Day

Spotlight: International Migratory Bird Day

Bird migration: One of the most spectacular events in the Americas

Coastal Pelicans Coastal Pelicans at Cabrillo National Monument (Vickie Mathieu/Share the Experience)

What You’ll Find

May 11 is the annual International Migratory Bird Day, an observance of astounding yearly migrations, when bird species of all kinds fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes. There are many events that highlight the importance of conserving bird habitat sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Partners in Flight and hosted at Birdday.org by the Environment for the Americas.

Bird migration is a worldwide phenomenon, but is especially spectacular in North America, where about 10 billion birds fly up to 20,000 miles round-trip each spring and fall. Because migration covers such a vast area, migratory birds face unusual risks and require safe habitats throughout their routes.

Getting There

The Mississippi River is one of the most important migratory flyways in North America, featuring several key locations that offer opportunities to witness the incredible journeys of these feathered migrants.
— The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge straddles Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota and features high bluffs along the Mississippi River, offering splendid views of the river and the birds that fly along it. Three facilities tailored to the interests of birders are located a few miles north of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
— Nestled in a valley along the Mississippi River, the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge offers superb settings for observing birds. A five-mile gravel loop passes along the edges of the prairie, and an observation deck provides breathtaking views and high-powered scopes to view refuge wetlands and marsh edges.
— The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Audubon Center at Riverlands located near the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers is a significant point along this flyway. Read our spotlight article for more details.

Try This

Join birders from around the region for Trempealeau’s annual Bird Festival, which coincides with International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 11. Activities include an “Earlybird” bird walk at 7 a.m. as well as family-oriented tours. Researchers will provide demonstrations of bird-banding, allowing them to track details of the birds’ migrations. Rangers will also bring out two injured raptors that are permanent residents: a red-tailed hawk and a great horned owl that cannot be released back into the wild.

There are also many bird festivals throughout the country associated with the migrating journeys of birds. To find an event near you visit the Birdday.org event page or read our Wildlife and Bird Festivals Go List.

Get Started

Visit Birdday.org to learn more about International Migratory Bird Day and to find an event near you.

View this video by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an overview of their migratory bird program titled Conserving America’s Birds:

Did You Know?

Birds are surprisingly mobile and can fly thousands of miles, allowing them to commute long distances between their restful winter “spas,” highly specific areas where their DNA leads them each year to rejuvenate and consume high-energy carbohydrates, and their summer breeding grounds teeming with a variety of high-protein food such as insects and seeds. Even tiny hummingbirds weighing only one fifth of an ounce fly non-stop across 600 miles of the Gulf of Mexico to reach winter resting grounds, and then make the same trip back to their summer homes.