Flyways — Myths or exaggerations

Because birds, especially waterfowl, are such remarkable, mesmerizing creatures, it’s not surprising that many myths surround their frenetic lifestyles. The common flyway is one of them. The concept of flyways has seeped into the public consciousness to a remarkable degree. And it’s all the more remarkable because flyways are mostly imaginary. A handful of bird species do follow routes that fit the concept well, but for the majority of migratory birds, the idea of flyways is irrelevant, even misleading.

Years ago U.S. Fish and Wildlife Management folks divided up the United States into four areas for wildlife management purposes. They were called the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific Flyways. These divisions are still used, as administrative units, for government agencies that deal with birds and waterfowl. For ducks, they work pretty well. But the concept of flyways doesn’t work so well for other birds – not even geese. One problem with the idea of distinct corridors of travel is that it implies gaps between the corridors. And for ducks, to some extent, those gaps actually exist, particularly over the mountains and the desert. But migration doesn’t work that way for most birds. The majority of species migrate on a broad front, not along narrow corridors. They form concentrations only where the habitat is exceptionally good, or where (like hawks) they are forced into limited areas by geography and they spread out when they can.

For the most part, most songbirds migrate at night. If we could look down at North America from out in space and see where the migrants are flying we wouldn’t see district rivers of birds flowing north or south. Instead, the birds would look more like a bumpy blanket stretched all the way across the continent. Or, to be more accurate, like several such blankets overlaying each other, with some sliding north, some northeast and some northwest in the spring and going southwest, south and southeast in the fall. The blankets would be thicker in the east, where the volume of the migration is greater, and more threadbare in parts of the west.

Wherever they can, the migrants spread out widely across the landscape. I suspect that every square mile of land in North America is crossed by at least a few migrating raptors every year. If most birds don’t pay attention to these supposed flyways, should we? On the other hand, they are actually useful concepts in some cases. For waterfowl management, they work well. In each of the four-named flyways, the Flyway Council of representatives from state wildlife agencies meet regularly to share information, review research, and make recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Often for waterfowl, the flyway structure – divided as it is – works well for both waterfowl and management and there’s no reason to change it. For other birds, the idea needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, you and your neighbors live on a flyway; I live on a flyway; we all live on a flyway. But to be effective in understanding both bird and waterfowl migration, we may have to put aside the the attractive fiction of four simple flyways and focus on the reality that the entire country is a vast, wide flyway. As a young boy, I always thought that each species had it’s own highway up in the sky. Wrong! Not so. They may go up the east coast one spring and then go up the west coast the following spring. In the fall, they might come back south through the Dakotas, Nebraska and Texas, and the next year they might come south through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia. It’s pretty haphazard. Migration is not a narrow thing. It’s very, very broad. Their spring and fall arrival and departure dates, however, are hard and firm pretty much carved in stone. Research (banded and tracking devices) has shown their north south routes are a very helter skelter sort of thing. You can’t nail them down to a very thing, narrow route called a “flyway.” Are you still with me? Now things get sort of complicated. In North America, we divide birds (even waterfowl) into two kinds: Eastern birds and Western birds. Basically, anything east of the 100th meridian on the Great Plains is called an Eastern Bird. That line runs through the middle of the North West Territories down through central North Dakota, South Dakota, central Nebraska, western Kansas, western Oklahoma and central Texas, and anything west of that line is called a Western Bird. So much for “flyways.”

Trapshooting starts

“Weather permitting,” that’s always the key word, but the spring weather has finally settled down and the local Izaak Walton folks have started spring trapshooting at the Ike’s park. Shooting is held on Tuesday nights, starting at about 5:30 p.m. and continues as long as anybody wants to shoot. The Izaak Walton Park and Trap Range is located nine miles south of Webster City on the Beach Street blacktop. Shooters should bring their own guns. Some 12 to 20 gauge shells will be available.

All trapshooting is open to the general public, members and nonmembers alike. Members and range-fee users are urged to check the calendar of events (schedule) located inside the club house. From time-to-time certain rifle and handgun ranges will be closed when special events are underway, such as Hunters Safety Classes, law enforcement qualifications, cowboy action shoots and more.


Mushrooms where are they? Mushroom hunting this year can best be described by three words: “slim and none.” Cool weather, high grass and lots of undergrowth have hampered mushroom hunters this spring. The one thing they are seeing lots of, however, is wood ticks. They’re everywhere and they’re all over.

And now have a good weekend.