Learning About Neotropical Migratory Birds

The Chattooga Conservancy monitors the springtime arrival of early neotropical migrant birds.  On Friday, April 28th interested citizens will have the opportunity to spend time in the field with expert birder Jack Johnston observing early arrivals of migratory birds from the tropics.  The species observed will represent birds that have spent the winter beyond the borders of the United States.  These small creatures must make the trip south in the fall, and back again in the spring.  This strategy allows the birds to have less competition when nesting, and to have a winter food supply in the tropics.

The ability of each bird species to continue this pattern requires that suitable winter habitat continues to exist, and nesting sites are available in our neck of the woods.  With many neotropical migrants such as warblers, an undisturbed forest without canopy gaps is required.  Once the forest is fragmented with roads and clearings, these birds cannot use it.  Other neotropical migrants locate their nests on branches above streams in Rabun County.  This may offer some protection from predators, as well as place the birds near an insect food supply.  Some neotropical birds require brushy habitat, and others require mature forests with heavy shade.  The overlap of nesting territories of different species indicates that their food requirements are sufficiently different to allow different species of birds to occupy part of the same space.

On the morning walk, the group will use binoculars and sound identification to monitor the birds present.  The trip leader, Jack Johnston, has spent 30 years as a volunteer conducting summer bird surveys for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The requirement for this monitoring is that birds must be identified by sound.  Over many years, through volunteer monitoring effort such as this, trends in bird populations become evident as some species become more numerous and many do not.  Overall, field observations are showing that there has been a decline in the number of neotropical migratory birds.  However, through concerted efforts at habitat conservation and restoration, this trend could possibly be slowed, or even reversed.

The grassroots efforts of the Chattooga Conservancy offer local interested people opportunities to participate in the conservation issues relating to protecting, promoting, and restoring the natural and human environment in the Chattooga River watershed.  Come join us and expert birder Jack Johnston on this season’s bird walk, which will meet in the Ingles parking lot on Highway 441 in Clayton, at 8 a.m. sharp.  Bring your binoculars!