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Blog & News

May 10th, 2024

World Migratory Bird Day

Author: Rachel Noriega
This year World Migratory Bird Day is May 11. When you think of migratory birds, you might think about waterfowl, sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), or Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) (which have one of the longest annual migration routes—18,641 miles round trip). If you’re nodding to yourself, it’s likely because the visual presence and absence of these birds can be easily observed.
Yuma Ridgway’s rail (Rallus obsoletus yumanensis) is uncommon to see and is listed as endangered in the United States. This species is often grouped in the category of secretive marsh birds. And they sure did know how to keep a secret!  The marsh provides shelter, cover from predators, and plenty of food in the form of small fish, frogs, and aquatic invertebrates. Because of this, secretive marsh birds are often observed by listening rather than seeing. Conducting presence surveys for the species is not as simple as walking around with a pair of binoculars. Our ecologists who work at the Salton Sea are currently practicing their listening skills. As part of learning about these secretive birds, our ecologists learned a cool fact about the Yuma Ridgway’s rail.
In the 1980s the Yuma Ridgway’s rail had been dismissed as a migratory bird, but in 2013 several carcasses were found far from any marsh leading experts to give the thought a second look. Researchers began placing transmitters on the birds and discovered some Yuma Ridgway’s rail do migrate. Some individuals were even documented to travel over 559 miles from the United States into Mexico. This research provides a new understanding of the species' life history and show that even the most unlikely species can migrate.
Bird migration can be hard to picture since the journey can go unwitnessed like that of the Yuma Ridgway’s rail. This year’s conservation theme highlights an under-noticed player in bird migration: insects.  The theme Protect Insects, Protect Birds emphasizes that birds can make these migration journeys because they can find food sources on the way to their destination. For many species, one of the most essential food sources during migration is insects. Yuma Ridgway’s rail, though not a strict insectivore, consumes aquatic invertebrates thus relying on insects.
This World Migratory Bird Day let's think about the small to support the bigger picture. For more information on how you can help insects to help birds visit US Fish and Wildlife’s World Migratory Bird Day page.