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Songbird Journeys by Miyoko Chu

Songbird Journeys by Miyoko Chu

On the first page of Songbird Journeys by Miyoko Chu we read “thousands of warblers flit past throughout the night, on their way from the tropics to the boreal forests of Canada.”

I have often watched the birds on Georgian Bay, especially the warblers who make their summer home here. We watch them nest in the early summer – one enterprising couple making a nest in an upturned canoe. The warblers are joined by sparrows and chickadees as their constant summer companions, by thrushes, blue jays, woodpeckers and others.

In late August the warblers have gathered in larger numbers, before disappearing by early September. Songbird Journeys is sub-titled Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds, and it is a fascinating book for anyone wishing to know a little more about the birds we spend our summer months with.

We learn about the winter home of these birds and their amazing migration, and the ornithologists who study their journey. We learn that the birds fly at night, when the “earth cools and the atmosphere becomes less turbulent”, that they can be seen with a telescope as they pass in front of the moon, and how their images confused technicians in the early days of radar.

When we witness a sudden congregation of migrating birds on our island it is at a time when the winds and rain cause the birds to land and remain grounded until the weather improves. Many of these birds are beginning a long migration that will take some as far as the Andes in Peru. They may fly across the continent to Louisiana or across the Gulf of Mexico. There is information in this book about locations to watch songbird migration, in Canada and the United States.

We meet ornithologists who spend time on oil rigs to track migrations, and bird watchers who follow birds, equipped with radio transmitters, by small planes or ingeniously equipped vehicles. These are the bird obsessed – and their stories are fascinating. For the amateur bird watcher their discoveries reveal the year round lives of the birds we see only in the summer.

We learn the habits of the birds that sometimes stay here in the winter, the chickadees, the jays and the nuthatch. Their methods of gathering and storing food – I’ll watch birds from now on with much more awareness and appreciation of their purpose.

This is also a book that advises us to think about the choices we make in our everyday lives, choices that affect the future of the songbirds we enjoy. Beyond cautioning us about the use of pesticides, as consumers we can choose to purchase products that do not harm the habitat of migrating birds. We are encouraged, in the end, to “share our appreciation of birds with a child, neighbour, friend or relative”.

Songbird Journeys certainly gave me a new appreciation for the songbirds I enjoy watching each summer. I will now think of the months they are away from Georgian Bay, and wonder which of them will return, hoping that they will survive their astounding migration.

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