Friday, March 15, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas is an oasis to more than just whales and gamblers. Thousands of migratory birds stop here to rest up, refuel and sometimes even mate while they journey back and forth across the globe. Think of it as the Pacific Highway, running north and south, but for birds instead of Beemers.
• Sage thrasher
Conservation status: climate threatened
Diet: insects and berries
Nests: in sagebrush or other bushes
• White-crowned sparrow
Conservation status: widespread and common
Habitat: desert washes
Diet: seeds, vegetable matter, insects
Nests: in shrubs
Migratory birds that stop in Southern Nevada
Many types of birds live in Southern Nevada. But many others lass through, including owls, eagles, hawks, falcons, waterfowl and bats (which are actually bird-like mammals). It'd be impossible to describe them all in one article, so here are a few highlights.
Spotting migratory travelers in your backyard
Many migratory birds stick to desert or water habitats and thus bypass suburban backyards. But some birds, such as woodpeckers, might make your home their hotel as they pass through. According to naturalist and author of birdandhike.com Jim Boone, many of the colorful birds we see in our backyards in spring have traveled from Central or South America and are on their way to the northern forests to breed.
“It is hard to imagine that the little birds that stop in our yards to feed and rest have come thousands of miles in a couple of weeks and have hundreds and thousands of miles to go. They are all little miracles,” Boone says. “Similarly, in the fall, the little miracles are the baby birds who have never flown the route and are now doing so all on their own—chances are that their parents are a month or two ahead of them.”
• Scott’s oriole
Habitat: desert mountain scrub
Diet: insects, nectar, berries
Nests: in yucca plants
• Ash-throated flycatcher
Habitat: semi-arid deserts, brush
Diet: insects,spiders, fruit
Nests: in holes in trees
If your backyard seems a little quieter than you remember, however, that might not just be your imagination. Boone says, “Many of our neotropical migrants [those that winter in the tropics and fly north to breed] are in real trouble, with some species declining as much as 90 percent since the 1970s. Thus, when we go out to listen to bird songs in our yards, we expect to hear far fewer individuals than we did in the old days.” He says the reasons for the decline include drought, climate change and habitat depletion.
Where to see migratory birds in Southern Nevada
• Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve:The evaporating ponds at Henderson's Wastewater Reclamation Facility were such a popular spot for birdwatching that the city finally made an area within the facility an official bird preserve. The 140-acre area includes nine ponds and serves as a (temporary and/or permanent) home to more than 270 species of birds, including thousands of migratory waterfowl. 350 E. Galleria Drive, 702-267-4180
Spring northbound migrants
• American white pelican
Conservation status: climate endangered
Habitat: lakes, marshes, salt bays
Diet: fish, crayfish, salamanders
Nests on isolated island areas
• Wilson’s warbler
Conservation status: stable but climate threatened
Habitat: thickets, low shrubs, thin woods
Nests on ground or in base of shrubs
• Clark County Wetlands Park:7050 Wetlands Park Lane, 702-455-7522
• Lake Mead National Recreation Area:702-293-8990
World Migratory Bird Day mobilizes against plastic for 2019
World Migratory Bird Day, celebrated May 11 around the globe, is actually a multi-month conservation effort. This year’s theme is “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution.” According to the event website worldmigratorybirdday.org: “The accumulation of plastic and plastic pollution has become a worldwide epidemic and a primary threat to birds around the globe.”
Discarded plastics threaten birds in a variety of ways. The belted kingfisher, tricolored heron and killdeer, for example, live in wetlands or near water and are at risk of getting tangled in plastic trash, such as fishing line. Many varieties of birds are at risk of accidentally ingesting plastics. They might mistake it for prey, as does the northern fulmar.
Fall southbound migrants
• Townsend’s warbler
Breeds in the northwestern U.S., Alaska and Canada
• Western tanager
Conservation status: no declining numbers, but climate threatened
Diet: insects, fruit, berries Nests in trees and can live in any habitat during migration, including deserts
On March 16, Clark County Wetlands Park will celebrate Migratory Bird Day with a free event of educational activities, crafts and games. 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 7050 Wetlands Park Lane, 702-455-7522.
Tips on how to protect birds from plastic (from nonprofit Environment for the Americas, which sponsors World Migratory Bird Day):
Pacific Migratory Flyway
The flyway is an aerial highway that runs from “Arctic tundra to South American wetlands,” serving more than a billion birds annually and stopping off in Southern Nevada, according to the National Audubon Society.
• Bring your own water bottle rather than drinking from disposable bottles.
• Shop with reusable bags and plastic containers.
• Decline straws and plastic containers.
• Buy food and toiletries from bulk bins (and bring your own bags).
• Keep washable eating utensils in your car and at the office so you can ditch disposables.
• Bring your own toiletries when traveling rather than using disposable hotel freebies.
• If you must use a disposable item, choose paper over plastic.
Federal Duck Stamp
It is possible to hunt migratory waterfowl if you buy a $27 federal duck stamp from the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The stamps are works of art in their own right, and proceeds go toward protecting wetland habitat, so it’s a worthy purchase even if you’re not a hunter. ndow.org.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.