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Irruptions: A Powerful Message for the Future of Birds

Updated on June 7, 2015
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl | Source

Overview

2015 has been a remarkable year for irruptive species. Over the winter of 2014-2015, the Snowy Owl went as far south as Florida, which has been known to happen. Many people were amazed at seeing this beautiful white owl that appears to be smiling sitting on airport tarmacs. This owl normally remains in the Arctic polar regions, but has been known to venture in the southern states from time-to-time, last seen as far south as Tennessee during January of 2009, where it had not been since 1987.

Birds and Magnetic North
Birds and Magnetic North | Source

Why Snowy Owls This Time?

Why does this bird come so far south instead of staying nearer its home territory?

Snowy Owls thrive on lemmings and other small rodentia. As opportunistic hunters, they will even dine on squirrels, rabbits, voles, and songbirds. Their diet is not limited to this short list of items, which gives them enough food to rely on, so that the species will not lose its numbers due to too many problems with food sources. However, if two feet of snow is between the owl and the prey, they will go elsewhere to get what they need in a timely manner. Not only that, they had a remarkable and productive breeding season in the Canadian arctic, so most of the birds in the south were juveniles.

Also within their bodies is a clock that tells them when to breed and when to migrate during the spring and summer. Research has indicated that they possess the needed equipment to sense that magnetic pull, and surprisingly, this anomaly has been known to have problems reaching these birds in urban areas with tall buildings. These structures block the path of said magnetism.

Have You Seen Unusual Birds in Your Area?

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Global Warming and Food for Migratory Birds

However, within the past few decades, these birds have been known to do many out of the ordinary things. More research has been done to determine favorite food sources, optimal times for breeding, as well as locations that provide the best food sources. It is rarely just one thing that drives birds to certain locations, but a big factor on that agenda can be food. The more birds that go to one area, that food can be rapidly depleted, and they have to move accordingly. Also, keep in mind with the shrinking polar cap, these birds will be running into difficulties having enough breeding territory in the very near future.

With the global warming problem, some of these food sources have been steadily moving north in warmer winter climates. Certain cold water fish must have specific foods in order to meet their needs, and if these plants or crustaceans, for example, are also moving north for the same reasons, they in turn, will do the same. If a plant requires a mean ambient water temperature of 48-62 degrees Fahrenheit, it will cease to exist, and the fish will move further north in order to obtain it, or die. This does happen, but nature is giving these fish the cue to move where they are more comfortable, as well.

Just like fish, vegetable matter has been known to be choked out by plants that will grow at warmer water temperatures. Therefore specific plants will perish if too warm, or die if too cold. It is all relative, and this bears on irruptions for both northern and southern climates.

Well-Fed Cedar Waxwing
Well-Fed Cedar Waxwing | Source

Why Did We Get An Overabundance of Cedar Waxwings This Year?

As an example for irruptive activity in the southern region, this has been an excellent spring for Cedar Waxwings in Oklahoma. This spring during migration in mid-May, there were sixty individuals on Boomer Lake in Stillwater, OK.

Again, why did this irruption occur?

Cedar Waxwings thrive on fruit of nearly any kind, and since we have received a large amount of rain in the spring of both 2014 and 2015, this was cause for a burst in fruit growth, as well as seeds for the seed eating birds. For the sake of space, I’ll just concentrate on the Cedar Waxwings, and omit anything to do with seeds. However, let it suffice to say that the results for seed eaters are nearly identical in my generalized research.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing | Source

Can We Predict Irruptions?

Since the waxwings breed further north, they fueled up where they found copious amounts of fruit. There are still a few of these birds in the area, namely Sanborn Lake, also in Stillwater, Oklahoma. For the most part, these birds are on their natural breeding grounds in Maine and Canada. Will there be stragglers there? Of course.

In a nutshell, there can be irruptions for various reasons, so it is possible to predict what birds might be where at any given time. That’s why it is such a necessity for birders and other people interested in specific avian activity to watch their own feeders, as well as popular birding areas and report these results to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology via http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ . It is only through research that we will develop answers to the problems of global warming, and lack of food and habitat.

© 2015 Deb Hirt

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Lela, Various birds will irrupt at certain times. Cowbirds eat insects for the most part, and if your part of the country is anything like mine, there are insects aplenty.

    • CreatePerfection profile image

      CreatePerfection 2 years ago from Beautiful Colorado

      Hi aviannovice,

      I tried to get the photos of the birds in our back yard into a format that would work to send on to you, but it just isn't going to go through. The flock increased today, though, and there were many birds that look like the male brown-headed cowbirds as well as the female ones, so I am pretty sure that is what they are. It is odd to me that I have lived in Colorado so long and never seen these birds before, but we have many of them visiting our back yard these days. Thanks for your efforts.

      Best,

      Lela

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I did not work. Try here: http://debhirt.blogspot.com

    • CreatePerfection profile image

      CreatePerfection 2 years ago from Beautiful Colorado

      Hi Deb, I sent you a link to a picture by email through Hubpages. Hopefully you will be able to open it. I have not been able to find you on google plus. I'll keep trying to locate you there.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You might have females with immatures, which resemble females. They are parasitic birds, dumping their eggs in nests. Other birds raise the eggs. look me up on goggle plus. Remember photo numbers 1003 and 1887. Those are pictures of both the male and female Brown-heded Cowbirds.

    • CreatePerfection profile image

      CreatePerfection 2 years ago from Beautiful Colorado

      Hi Deb,

      The closest I have found in appearance to the birds I saw the other day is the female brown-headed cowbird. There were approximately 30 to 35 birds in the flock that landed in our back yard. Would it make sense that they were all females? It doesn't seem like that would be the case to me, but I will continue to explore their identification and if possible get a picture of one and send it to you. Thanks again for the great article.

      Best,

      Lela

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You're very welcome, Lela. Look up birds of Colorado, and I think Wikipedia might kick back some suspects for you. If you click on the name, a photo should come up. Let me know what kind of bird you have, or get me a picture, and I will ID it for you.

    • CreatePerfection profile image

      CreatePerfection 2 years ago from Beautiful Colorado

      Hi Deb,

      I really appreciate this article. Just today a small flock of birds I have been unable to identify landed in our yard. We have bird feeders and a fountain and they indulged in both. The birds were approximately 8 to 9 inches and mottled black, brown and tan. I looked them up in our bird book, but have not found them yet. This is really good information and there is no question that we are all experiencing climate change. Colorado is where I live and we have had a huge amount of snow and rain this year. Our normal annual rainfall is 16 inches and we have already had more than that and the year is only half over. Thanks for the great article.

      Best,

      Lela

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Rightfully so, Lawrence. That's another reason why I would love to see your beautiful birds and animals, to help tell the story.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      We love anything "native to NZ" and fight to keep them around, helping tell others about them is all part of it.

      Lawrence

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Fabulous, Lawrence! You're so helpful and I thank you for your effort.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Deb

      Just did a quick search on the web and just type in "New Zealand birds" in Google and you'll get all the websites. The best ones are the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Forest and Bird as they give the most upto date information and whats being done to bring species back from the brink of extinction.

      Enjoy reading

      Lawrence

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, sgbrown! Thanks so much. If you go looking for birds, you are apt to see something out of the ordinary. Many times they appear at feeders. If you don't have some kind of water near the feeder, you might want to consider it, and that will make it so much more attractive to birds, as well as cover and hiding places.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 2 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      This is very interesting, Deb! I haven't noticed any unusual birds here so far this spring, but I am always watching! Your pictures are beautiful!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Fantastic. Since I have this weekend off, I will make it a point to do some reading and arm myself with a but of knowledge. Then I'll see what I can accomplish with it. Any suggestions on books would also be appreciated.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Not just the present ones but birds like the Moa (giant flightless and extinct since the 1820's) are amazing

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I need to read more on your birds, and I shall. All I needed was the excuse!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      New Zealand was a land of birds and insects before humans got here 1,000 years ago! All the animals here were brought by humans! Thats why we have such special birds and insects

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Lawrence, that is priceless. I also understand that some of the birds of paradise are in the area, too.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I thought you might find that amusing!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I don't have a car by choice, but I am smiling for the Kea's wisdom.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Deb

      New Zealand does have some amazing birds. My favorite is the 'Tui" nicknamed the 'Parson bird' for a small white tuft under its beak that looks like a preachers collar. We don't see them too often in Hamilton but when we go over to the father in laws (in the Bay of plenty) we see them.

      If you ever get over here be careful with the car as the KEA (New Zealand hawk) love shiny things for their nests and have been known to trash brand new cars in minutes! (But they are amazing)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      lawrence, birding is the top sport in the world, believe it or not. I have heard about the lyrebird, as well as the bowerbird, as you have some excellent life in your part of the world. Perhaps one day,I might be able to photograph them.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Fascinating article.

      I'm not really very informed about the situation with birds but we always try to do our bit to help the wildlife.

      Awesome hub

      Lawrence

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Well, Mary, all I need is a related job, and a proper magazine in which to publish my material. At least I can continue research in whatever capacity I choose. It is a start, nonetheless.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      While your little waxwings look abundantly healthy their changes in migration are disturbing because we are responsible. Will their food sources continue to survive the migration? If not....

      As always Deb, something to think about! Now if we could just get the right people to do the thinking.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, and interesting.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      And I always will tell what I know, Frank, in order to keep each species surviving. We taketh away, but it is so rare to give. We must give back in order to continue the lives that we have. What will we do without pollinators? We will simply perish. Tell everyone that you can, and make it a crusade, or we will be no more.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      another informative and believe it or not dose of reality.. Birds are wonderful creatures.. and that snow owl.. angelic.. It's a great shame that mankind controls the futures of almost every living thing on this planet.. bees are dying.. different frogs.. and even yes.. species of birds.. photos are what we will have left if we lose these creatures.. bless you for sharing Frank

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Audrey, you should have them in the winter. They will be in trees sustaining themselves on berries or fermented apples. Sometimes they get so intoxicated on the apples, they will fall out of the trees at your feet. You could even leave a few berries around on a feeding table, and they could show up at your residence.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      We don't have waxwings in my neck of the woods tat I know of, but what a beautiful bird!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      So true about the plants and animals. However, it confuses some birds in such a way(especially the first year birds), that have the least amount of success and die. They have so much to learn.

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

      Sanjay Sharma 2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Only the birds have the capability to migrate from one place to another to seek the climate that suits them. But the animals and plants are subjected to the changing environment in which they are forced to either get adapted or perish.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Mel! They ARE so regal looking, right?

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I have seen Waxwings twice in our area, but not in recent years. They are a lovely site to behold. Great hub!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Dave, it truly is all over the planet. It concerns me to some degree regarding the endangered Whooping Crane in this country. In the back of my mind, I am already planning for a genetically engineered breed that will eat what comes its way. Even though they are ancient birds, they have such finicky ways about them.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb excellent informative hub. Global warming is having an impact all over the planet. Here we have birds that are breeding two to three weeks earlier than usual, common birds,such as the blue tit, in order to catch the glut of caterpillars which are also occurring three weeks earlier than usual. Birds such as the Cetti's warbler and Dartford Warblers are gaining in numbers and spreading further north again due to the warming.

      Great work highlighting the changes.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They are irruptive birds. They are very northern, normally, and nine times out of ten, it is the youngsters that head south on exploratory trips for food. Last winter they caused extreme problems at the airports, as they were all over the tarmac.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      I am confused (not extraordinary for me.) With global warming, shouldn't the snow owls be moving further north, rather than further south?

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Alicia, agreed. This article has been brewing in my head for a LONG time. Share it with as many people as you can to get the word out. I was half joking with Billy when I said that I might do speaking engagements for the same reason. As an ornithologist, I need to try to do as much positive work in my field as possible, and as the old saying goes, it starts with ME.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an informative and important hub, Deb. The changes that are happening on Earth could have dramatic and far reaching effects.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, PS! If you want to learn more, I am a wealth of information(grin). Seriously though, we must protect what we have in this fine natural balance.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      The photos are excellent...the waxwing looks as though I could reach in and touch it.

      Very interesting and informative, Deb. I had never really thought of such behavior by birds...how smart they are.

      Angels are on the way to you this afternoon. ps

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Ah, manatita, this writings are truly my passion. We must protect all the species we can. As you see, nature all flows into one another, so the delicate balance must be kept at one. It's almost like our own balance, to keep the body in top shape.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Such a sweet and informative Hub, and great pictures as per usual. Well written and an excellent presentation here on a most loving subject, a symbol for the Soul. Much peace.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      whonu, I am doing my best to work on that right now. The more that I can get to pass on my messages to everyone that they know, the better.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      We may certainly take a lesson from our birds and how global warming and the merciless polluting of rivers and oceans cause devastating effects. We must stand together and say no more, and then share our message with as many as we can. whonu

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Okay. I met a couple when I went to High Island this spring. They are beautiful birds, and I believe that they come to OK, too.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Deb, I did some research. It looks like the bird I mentioned is a Great Crested Flycatcher.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Take a look at the female Baltimore Oriole and see if that's what it could have been, Sha. Yes, that's what I am alluding to, all right. Some areas have lost most of a species, like Great Blue Heron in Maine, which is a plentiful bird in this country.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Jodah, those are exactly the things that I am talking about(wish you could recall which birds!). Keep watch. You'll be seeing more in your travels.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Global warming has had a profound effect on the environment. In some cases it's resulted in the demise of plant and wildlife species. In others, it has caused many species to re-acclimate themselves in order to survive.

      I recently saw a bird I don't recall seeing in my area before now. It has a yellow belly, light brown fuzzy head, and a light brown back with curved stripes of white. It's very pretty; I'd love to know what it is.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very interesting hub Deb. The move of certain species of birds to areas outside their natural habitat is concerning, and I also feel is a result of climate change. Last Spring we had a pair of strange birds at our home. Everyday they were tapping on our bedroom window and seemingly playing in our garden. I checked a book on Australian birds (can't remember off hand what they were called) and found their normal location was much further inland and to the north of where we live. I have only ever seen this one pair of this particular species of bird and they were here everyday for at least two months.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, I am trying so hard to save what we have. The next thing will be speaking engagements across the country, if I have to do it.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I wasn't aware of this, Deb, but it doesn't surprise me one little bit. Nature has to be completely confused by the changes in natural habitat that are occurring. Keep writing these articles and keep raising awareness. You are doing a valuable service for all.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Irruptions are in numbers. You definitely can't mis them.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Climate change has been going on for decades, Chris. It is just so noticeable now for people born in the 50's.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Very informative article, Deb!

      I never paid any attention to irruptions in my region. I have noticed cardinals, doves, hoary woodpeckers, etc. staying around in winters, but I attribute it to backyard feeders or the fact that I got interested in bird watching recently so that I noticed them now. Perhaps irruptions are explosion in numbers that are different from this.

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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Things are definitely changing. I saw it in the US Virgin Islands recently when diving on the coral reefs. And the birds are feeling it as well. I saw a Snowy Owl in the winter of 2012 in northern Michigan. They have been spotted there with more regularity since. I hope the reality of climate change continues to catch on so we can respond in appropriate ways.

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