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News and Resources

Keep the bays safe for the birds - August 17, 2010

Like tourists, many of our feathered friends will be leaving Ocean City and Assateague soon. Instead of packing up their beach chairs and boogie boards and hitting the road, they will be taking a much faster route: flying. Young birds that nested in the coastal bays will take flight to head south for the winter. Great egrets, black skimmers, terns, snowy egrets, and glossy ibis will head to Florida, the Gulf and South America. Many of these species use the Atlantic coastline as a migratory flyway, parallel to the barrier islands.

As our summer birds leave us for their winter waters, they will follow the ancient migratory routes of their ancestors to regions hundreds and thousands of miles from our coastal bays. What will they find when they reach their destination? Will the water be clean? Will food be abundant? Will the habitat they require for survival still be there, or will the shoreline be hardened, the seagrass gone, and the marshes covered in oil?

The cues for bird migration occur in the fall when food is abundant. Birds have to fill their bellies to store up for the long flight. The urge to migrate is a genetically programmed, hormonal response to the change in length of daylight. So when the air begins to turn crisp and cool and summer comes to an end, changes in the coastal bays bird population are noticeable.

The herons, egrets, ibis, and terns that will be leaving our coastal bays benefitted from the prime habitat for breeding and raising young. The baby birds have spent all summer growing and watching their parents, and come fall they are finally ready to take flight and head out of town for the winter season.

These birds come to the coastal bays because it is rich in natural resources -- lots of water, food, and shelter. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program works diligently to protect these habitats and maintain good water quality for birds and other wildlife. The coastal bays provide a great combination of marshy wetlands and waterways where these birds thrive. Our bays are chock full of the tasty things the birds like to eat such as crabs, shrimp, fish, and insects.

Even though we lose many species who fly to warmer climates in the wintertime, we count on their return next spring, provided they survive the increasing hazards of migration. It is important to remember that we all live in one world. The places we call home are also home to numerous other species: birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. If we all do our part to keep these habitats healthy we can continue to enjoy the wildlife that resides here for generations to come.

 

Conservation of our water and wildlife truly does force us to think globally and act locally. Fortunately, in Maryland, we have an informed citizenry and political leaders who will make certain that our coastal bays are in good shape when the birds return next spring.

If you're interested in helping to protect our coastal bays, please contact the Maryland Coastal Bays Program at mcbp@mdcoastalbays.org or visit www.mdcoastalbays.org for more information.

Maher is a summer intern for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. She is a student at Salisbury University.



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