Birds Bridge Borders

Birds make our entire planet their home, migrating across borders for survival, inspiring us with the scale of their journeys across countries and oceans. We make our backyard bird friendly, but birds choose where to spend their time, leaving our home’s borders to visit other backyards and neighborhood parks that welcome them. Birders too forge friendships across borders, be it within local communities, or across states, and even countries.

Mexican Jay at Big Bend National Park. Courtesy of Jaya Ramanathan

Both Audubon Society and All About Birds highlight facts about bird migration. Some Arctic Terns migrate longer than any other bird, from high Arctic to Antarctic. We saw some at Juneau, Alaska near a sign “Area Closed Arctic Terns Nesting.” One perched on this sign, another near the water, and a couple were in flight. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds double their body weight in fat before migration, burning it steadily on their 2,000-mile journey. Some nourish at our nectar feeders and flowers during migration. Swainson’s Thrush migrates 3,000-miles from Central and South America to northern Canada and Alaska, enters a sleep-like state for about nine seconds at a time, keeping half its brain awake to avoid predators or mid-air collisions. Bar-tailed Godwit flies 6,800 miles nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand, shrinking and growing its internal organs. The sedentary Mexican Jay that we spotted in Big Bend National Park, however, hardly leaves its breeding territory. It is widespread in Mexico, but also seen near the southern border of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Rusty Blackbird. Courtesy of Jaya Ramanathan

Since birds freely cross borders, we are lucky to spot them in our backyard. They visit alone or as a group, the latter affording protection against predators. Rusty Blackbird walks around, digging up prey from under our backyard grass. Cooper’s Hawk twice captures a White-winged Dove. Wary, the latter disappear, and on return, cautiously take flight on cue, on seeing a predator? Red-bellied Sapsucker and Pine Warbler visit briefly during a bomb cyclone. Brown Creeper, true to its name creeps up our oak. House Finch snacks on our elm’s acorns. Orange-crowned Warbler comes into view as I track a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Whenever such birds leave our home’s borders, we reconcile to not knowing when they will return, just as they adapt to a life of no guarantees.

Brown Creeper. Courtesy of Jaya Ramanathan

Birding molds friendships across borders such as mine with a birder in Georgia. We frequently discuss nature photography, bird friendly backyards, bird behavior and identification. We also trade notes about our sightings of similar birds. As an example, Red-breasted Nuthatch visits both our areas only in winter, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatch (not seen here) are all year there, and Pygmy Nuthatch visits neither area. We even successfully collaborated, virtually, to publish our first book about birds.

Brown-headed Nuthatch. Courtesy of Sarita Yeola

By bridging borders, birds inspire us to be daring as in their risky long distance migration, exploratory as in how they adjust to life in various habitats and geographical regions, collaborative like a flock that conserves energy by migrating together, and innovative to develop technologies that lets us also fly across our planet and beyond.


Authored by Jaya Ramanathan. Review and photo editing by Sarita Yeola.