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Migration in the Coastal Bays - December 18, 2016

             Every year animals from all over the world migrate due to different environmental factors. Bird migration is the regular seasonal movement of a species, often north to south along a flyway, and usually between breeding and wintering grounds. Fish migration is the daily or annual movement of fish species. Migration distances can range from mere meters to thousands of kilometers, with the purpose to either feed or breed.

                In our Coastal Bays, we have many different animal species that come and go on a seasonal basis. Different animals migrate for different reasons, such as seasonal changes, lack of food supply, or for breeding.  Some may leave the Coastal Bays for months on end, while others may visit for only a span of days.

                Birds typically migrate to different regions of the country when it is time to nest and breed, but when the food supply becomes limited they will migrate to a new area that has a larger food supply. Maryland alone is home to a diverse array of breeding bird species, not to mention the large number that pass through just during migration.

                In Maryland, birds primarily migrate in the spring or fall seasons before temperatures become too hot or too cool. Birds that migrate to the Coastal Bays in the spring will typically stay through the summer and leave in the fall after breeding. Those that migrate here in the fall usually remain throughout the winter and leave in the spring once temperatures begin to rise.

                Two different bird species that migrate to Maryland in the spring are the osprey and common loon. The main difference between these two species’ migration habits is that ospreys migrate south to Central America to overwinter after breeding while loons migrate north to Canada where it is colder. Ospreys and common loons nest near the bays close to the water’s edge, which allows easy access to shelter while providing close proximity to the water.   

                Maryland is home to snowy and saw-whet owls during the winter months, as they migrate south from their summer breeding grounds in the colder, upper region of North America. Northern saw-whet owls, rare in Maryland, are the smallest eastern North American owl species. These tiny birds often find shelter inside tree cavities and hunt small prey like mice or insects. Snowy owls migrate to Maryland after leaving their summer breeding grounds in the arctic tundra. They can be found along beaches, nesting on the ground.

                Fish migrate to breed or due to changing water conditions. Throughout the year, fish come and go from the Coastal Bays looking for food or a safe place to begin laying eggs. Some species are known to migrate on a daily basis, continually moving, while others settle down for a while before moving to another area.

                American shad, a type of fish that spends most of its adult life in the Atlantic Ocean, migrates to freshwater in the spring due to changes in water temperature and salinity. They will then spawn and lay eggs in freshwater streams. After spawning, the fish will migrate back to the ocean where they will remain until the next spawning season.

                Atlantic menhaden and striped bass are different species of fish that migrate to Maryland’s bays during the spring and summer months. Menhaden are a type of fish that spawn in warmer Atlantic Ocean waters at different times of the year. They normally migrate to the Coastal Bays during the spring, where the juveniles will live until fall. Striped bass, Maryland’s state fish, spawn in rivers during the summer months before returning to warmer waters by North Carolina in the fall and winter.

                As so many different species of birds and fish travel to and from our waters, it is amazing to learn about why they migrate and for what reasons.

Swanton is an intern with Maryland Coastal Bays Program and senior at Stephen Decatur High School.



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