After having my very first Ruff observation identified, this prompted me to look at the Wikipedia page and started me on a thought process that I had never really gone down before: the ecological interactions that migrant birds must experience when they migrate long distances.
What do these creatures see and feel … and even think (if they were capable), when they cross the boundaries of different habitats that they encounter on their long journeys? The change in vegetation and land types … the shifts in climates and winds as it flies, how it must adapt to each change as it passes through …
In the case of my Ruff, the habitat it breeds in (the far northern hemisphere) is very different climate-wise and in many ways, habitat-wise, than where it winters. What does our Ruff experience when it sees a lion or elephant walking past, or encounters a Nile crocodile on the banks of the river where it winters, or hears the cry of an African Fish Eagle perched in a towering Fever Tree, compared to its breeding summer grounds where it would never encounter such creatures?
It’s probably more likely that the Ruff simply takes all this in its stride as it forages for its continued survival, but for other birds that may perhaps be a bit more brainier (such as certain songbirds), it must certainly be a form of enrichment!
I agree that this effect is easier to see in songbirds, e.g. Marsh Warbler uses in its song what it hears on migration, so it mimics African birds, while other warblers prefer to mimic what they hear on breeding grounds.
I’m waiting for your Ruffs, they start coming back at the end of April.)
Welcome to the community! I’m amazed that hummingbirds, being the tiny creatures they are, are capable of migrating long distances (at least with some species). I think there’s one species that flies straight across from Mexico to the USA over the open sea in the Gulf of Mexico? Incredible feat!
It’s a very interesting line of thought. I thought immediately of my dog, who although he does not migrate, does experience environmental changes that range from -30C to +30C. From a snow covered land, to a green one. He seems able to adjust to the changes, although he doesn’t like hot weather. This winter, where we have more snow than normal, he does struggle to find a place to ‘do his business’, and does not like being in deep snow. It’s too much work!
As well, there are birds that stick around here all year, and the changes don’t seem to bother them - but I don’t know what they think about it. I suspect when the winter is harsh, many die.
Migration is somehow hardwired into a bird’s brain. Some just wander and move to areas with more food and warmth. Some fly extremely long distances. I suspect that when they they reach their destination that their main impulse is to eat and mate (if that is what they do in the area). Their food sources and nesting sites are probably most important to them. I don’t think they pay too much attention to the other life forms around them. Part of the furniture, so to speak.
Ecologically, they likely play a big role. Here in the northern areas, they would feed on the non-bird life and may help keep pests in check.
I’m just spitballing here. I don’t know bird behavior all that well, and know that some birds don’t seem to make an impact on pest insects - either the insects are unpalatable or not part of their food source. It’s certainly an interesting thing to contemplate.
Sounds like good spitballing. When you think about the world that a long-distance migratory bird experiences over the course of year, it is remarkable, but it’s normal for them. They aren’t sight-seeing but focused on resources for their own survival and reproduction. I’ll certainly never travel that much on a yearly basis and most humans never have traveled that far from their natal areas.
Crows and Ravens here do as well, but their interest in other life generally revolves around food (humans as a food source) or threat. Usually they just ignore me. But as I said, I don’t know bird ‘psychology’ very well.
One of the things that fascinates me (along the same lines as the OP) is how semi migratory birds either transmit or learn behaviours. Many gulls will follow plowing tractors to pick up soil organisms. Many have not experienced that in 6 to 8 months. How do they know? When I dig my small garden in the spring, there are no gulls there! It’s all fascinating.
They learn and remember, birds have good memory and most of what they do is through actual skill, it’s like walking or talking for humans: you have what is needed to learn that easily, but you still need to learn how to do that, for birds their flight, their songs, how they interact with the world is through that experience. Corvids to add to that also have complicated social structure, so their brain is capable of more things than a regular passerine. Crows are known to play in snow, they also don’t need to eat all the time, so they spend enough time “procrastinating” and socialising while watching the world, of course finding new food source is a plus, but it’s similar to what a human would do, they often have quite some food stored in secret places.
Gulls naturally spend a lot of time in spring on the fields as open soil means food, machines helping them is convenient, but they don’t visit gardens as they’re open space birds, so that’s why they don’t check what you have there.)
i bet even in the same species, individuals probably have as much variation as we see in human personalities. just as some humans love traveling and experiencing all the different foods and meeting all the new people in the new area, and some humans stick to the same stuff when they have to travel, i bet different birds approach their migrations in different ways.
What is also a mystery is that many immature bird species migrate at different times than the adults. Yet, these first year hatchlings know where to go when they migrate. They have some basic instincts to survive including how to interpret things like crocodiles = danger that may be in their path. I would bet that they don’t know everything and have to learn/adapt to new things they encounter. But, they have so many thing in their brain already. We humans can figure out some things and deduce certain reasons behind behavior from watching birds; but, there will always be a lot of things that we just won’t be able to understand.
I hate to bring up my dog again, but we used to go for a walk through a small bush. When we got a dump of snow, some of the small trails through the trees were obscured. I didn’t know where a specific small path was, but he knew without even looking, at full speed. Non human life seems to know things that humans do not understand. I don’t know how he knew, but I could only approximate where it was.