Springtime brings us many natural wonders to celebrate. One is the annual return of migratory birds to Alaska from a winter in the southern United States or Latin America.
Last Saturday was International Migratory Bird Day, an official celebration of birds' arrival from the tropics to their temperate breeding grounds. While the birds had no idea of all the attention they were getting, they seemed festive, singing and searching for meals among newly opened leaves.
These long-distance voyagers have navigated thousands of miles using cues from the sun, starts, landmarks and Earth's magnetism as their guide. The tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet in your yard could have been hunting for caterpillars in California a couple weeks ago.
Everybody can celebrate migratory birds' return this summer. Juneau offers a lot of good places to see birds.
The Mendenhall Recreation Area and Wetlands host a variety of migratory songbirds, raptors, shorebirds and waterfowl. Famous long-distance flyers, arctic terns recently arrived from southern South America to the beach near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. They are best appreciated from a distance; walking on the beach will disturb the nesting area.
Celebrating migratory birds includes not just the enjoyment of spring songs, but also a contribution to bird conservation. There are simple things that can take place right in your own back yard that can affect their survival.
If you own a bird feeder there are some important things to know. Bird feeders can be a great way to view birds and appreciate their beauty. But feeders can be dangerous. If you are attracting birds, you definitely don't want to have cats around. Even well-fed, bell-wearing or declawed cats will catch birds. What's more, eating birds can even put your cat in danger of certain diseases. The best solution is to keep pet cats indoors and report strays to Animal Control.
In the past few years, black bear have been increasingly attracted to backyard birdseed and suet, prompting local biologists to recommend taking down feeders in the summer and fall when the birds have abundant natural food sources.
Another hazard occurs if feeders are not kept clean and dry. Seeds that get moldy or spoiled can kill birds with food poisoning such as salmonella bacteria or an inhaled fungal disease called aspergillosis.
Likewise, the solution in hummingbird feeders should be changed every few days to prevent fermentation. Even the perches should be sterilized periodically to prevent the spread of diseases between visitors. So, if you have a feeder, please be willing to invest the time in regular cleaning throughout the year. A 10 percent solution of household bleach and a rinse in tap water works well. When on vacation, it's best to take the feeder down or have a neighbor tend it.
A better way to attract birds is to landscape your yard with them in mind.
Natural shrubs, trees, flowers and berries make great habitat. While you may not get the multitudes that a feeder would attract, a little patience will reveal a more natural view of bird behavior as they forage for natural foods.
Water, even in our soggy climate, is usually an attractant as well. To keep their feathers in good shape all birds indulge in frequent bathing and an inordinate amount of preening. Songbirds usually prefer shallow water on the ground to the raised cement birdbaths. Even fine gravel or sand is a draw because birds swallow it to aid in digestion. Once again, keep in mind that attractants make birds more vulnerable to cats.
There are things to do indoors too. A good place to start is with windows. Collisions with birds kill thousands of birds every year. Anything that breaks up the reflection will work. Some birders paste a silhouette of a hawk in the window, but any type of decal works. Screen or awnings help too.
Additionally, ambitious birders have the option of getting involved in bird monitoring projects. There are nationwide backyard feeder surveys coordinated by organizations like Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology that you can participate in by using the Internet.
Locally, bird banding and breeding bird surveys are conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agencies participate in a program called Partners in Flight, a multinational effort to monitor trends of migratory bird populations. Local volunteers are an integral part of this program and their participation is welcomed. To take part in local bird monitoring, call the Juneau Ranger District at 790-7422.
Another local opportunity to learn more about birds is to take a Saturday morning bird walk with an expert from the Juneau Audubon Society any weekend through June 10.
For more information on the Internet, check these Web sites:
Partners in Flight: http://www.absc. usgs.gov/research/bpif/bpif.html
Feeder watch and other programs: http:/ /birdsource.cornell.edu or http: //www.ornith.cornell.edu.
Gwen Baluss is a Wildlife Technician for the U.S. Forest Service at the Juneau Ranger District. E-mail members of the Juneau Audubon Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.