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The How and Why of Bird Migration

The sound of hawks spreads through the sky as they travel in their V-shaped formation. For nature observers, this beautiful movement represents bird migration. In North America, there are more than 650 bird species. Though some are permanent residents, the majority of species are migratory. Bird migration has many underlying reasons such as climate, food scarcity, breeding, and genetic disposition. Our own nomadic ancestors, who were hunters and gatherers, migrated for thousands of years to escape drought and food scarcity, so the idea of large-scale migration is not so uncommon.

Insight on the how and why of bird migration helps us figure out why migration is a vital trait. Scientists today continue to study bird migration and its origins to uncover the mysteries of how evolution has crafted birds into astute navigational creatures, and how to protect ecosystems important to bird survival.

Understanding bird migration is also another way to combat stubborn creationists, who claim that evolution is not real. Recently, scientists discovered fossils from Mesozoic-aged rocks that point to a direct link between a group of dinosaurs, known as maniraptoran theropods, and the birds of today. With no hesitance, they announced that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

The articl tern flies…[Image:]

The Arctic Tern flies from its Arctic breeding grounds to Antarctica, covering 25,000 miles. [Image:]

Migration is a movement of birds between their breeding or summer homes and their non-breeding or winter grounds. Birds tend to migrate from one area to another in search of resource—moving from a place of scarcity to one with an abundance of food and nesting locations. Birds of the northern hemisphere migrate northward in the spring to benefit from the insect population, plant life, and nesting locations. Once winter begins and there’s a reduction of insects and other food sources, the birds move south again.

Not all birds travel the same distance. Short-distance migrants cover ranges such as high to low elevations, medium-distance migrants covers a range of several states, and long-distance migrants cover ranges that can extend from the US. to Mexico, and even farther south.

Bird species tend to follow numerous routes called flyway systems. In North America there are four major flyways: Atlantic Flyway, Mississippi Flyway, Central Flyway, and Pacific Flyway. Though migration is at its peak during spring and fall, there are birds migrating throughout the year. Several weeks or days before migration, birds enter hyperphagia, a state where hormone levels force them to increase their body weight to store fat for later use as energy while they travel.


The American Golden Plovers make a round trip of 20,000 miles covering areas in Canada, Central America, South America, and down to Patagonia. [Image:]

The origins of long-distant migration involve complex scientific studies and experiments, not always resulting in a full revelation of the inner-workings of migrations. So far, scientists know that temperature, variations in food supplies, and genetic predisposition affect migratory patterns. Birds can also face unpredictable forces, such as storms, physical weakness, or predators during their journey, causing a change in flying patterns. For example, some birds migrate during the night, since the cooler weather makes it easier. Songbirds migrate at night, to avoid feisty predators lurking during the day, while hawks, swifts, swallows, and waterfowl find it more suitable to migrate during the day. Usually birds will fly down to unexpected locations where they can rest and feed before arriving at their destination. This type of behavior causes migrant traps, usually advantageous for bird-watchers.

The Rufous Hummingbird travels 4,000 miles from Alaska and northwest Canada to wintering sites in Mexico.  [Image:]

The Rufous Hummingbird travels 4,000 miles from Alaska and northwest Canada to sunny Mexico. [Image:]

Migratory patterns have evolved over thousands of years, making the necessity to migrate integral to a bird’s genetic makeup. Scientists attribute the learning process to the first bird communities which flew in different directions, and later learned what direction was more beneficial. The memory of later birds kept pointing to a southern direction during winter. Birds inherited the knowledge of directional flying in order to find warmer weather and food, so it’s possible that their genetic memory is triggered by external conditions. Scientists present the evidence that young birds already know to fly toward the north in the spring without help from adult birds.

Northern Wheatear travels… [Image:]

The tiny and regal Northern Wheatear travels about 18,000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to its Arctic breeding grounds. [Image:]

Birds cover thousands of miles in their annual travels, making the same course year after year. At their disposal is a set of navigational skills, including navigation by the stars, sensing changes in the earth’s magnetic field, and even smell. Scientists are consistently experimenting to see what internal maps birds follow. So far there are a couple of theories.

Birds decide which direction to approach based on smell, creating a map of odors that provide directional guides. Evidence suggests that olfactory navigation extends to 310 miles. Another theory suggests that birds can sense tiny changes in the magnetic field as they approach the poles and fly away from the equator, which tells them the latitude. The third theory says that birds use a sun compass, indicated by the position of the sun, and a star compass for songbird species that migrate at night, who recognize star patterns and the tilt and rotation of the night sky as navigational clues.

The next time you see a V-shaped flock, you can begin to ponder the many generations it took to make that flight possible.

For more on birds, check out  the Pocket Ranger® Fish and Wildlife Apps  available in New York, Alabama, Wisconsin, Georgia, Nebraska, and New Jersey. The apps provide bird descriptions, distribution areas, and habitat information, along with features like GPS mapping, a built-in compass, and distance indicator to help plan your next birding adventure.


7 Awesome Photos to Get You Psyched for Summer

The first day of summer is this Saturday, June 21st, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by hanging out in the great outdoors! But since we’re sitting at our desks right now, we’ll do the next best thing: show you photos of people hanging out in the great outdoors!

Without further ado, here are 7 awesome photos to get you psyched for summer!



Up for some tubing, anyone? Relaxing in the water, surrounded by huge, gorgeous, green trees, and floating around with all your friends sounds like a perfect summer plan.

roasting marshmallows


Summer=camping in our minds, and what’s camping without s’mores? The fire, the logs, the mallows roasting; well, it just makes us more excited than ever for this season.

guy surfing a blue wave


Yes; waves really are that blue in nature. Being active is our main jam, so you know we’re planning some surfing trips to catch some killer waves.

picnic at the beach


At this point, we feel like we’re planning your perfect summer day, so after you’re done surfing, you might as well have a lovely picnic on the beach.



After looking at this photo, who wouldn’t want to canoe down this beautifully scenic river?

fire on the beach


This fire on the sand is just waiting for a season full of camping, s’mores, and bonfires galore!

girl in the water


If you aren’t excited for summer by now (seriously, who are you?), just look at this amazingly stunning photo. You’re bound to want to get wading in the water.

Don’t forget your Pocket Ranger® app! It’ll help turn these photos into your real-live excursions.


Colorful and Exciting State Birds

The U.S. is one of the few countries to use a wide variety of flags, seals, floral emblems, trees,  and birds, among other objects, as official state and national symbols actually written into law. Symbols are mostly used to give a state its identity, often drawing on cultural heritage and natural treasures as inspiration. The bald eagle is a native bird, recognized by many as a metaphor for all that is “American.” Since 1893, when the first floral emblems were adopted, the creation of state symbols has continued, even reaching the cookie level. In 1997, Massachusetts adopted the chocolate chip cookie as their state cookie after a third grader proposed the idea.

A Bald Eagle begins his journey. [Image:]

A bald eagle begins his journey. [Image:]

In the case of state birds, there’s no better idea then putting a bird as a symbol; not only does it draw on a natural treasure, but it draws attention to these sometimes neglected birds. To have the status of a state bird is a pretty high achievement for our small friends. Still, not all states put great thought into choosing, often mimicking other states. The cardinal is used six times and the mocking Bird four times–and yet not an owl or hummingbird in sight. With over 800 species in the U.S. and possibly new species, where’s the originality? Despite the current dullness, some state birds are actually exciting and colorful. Here’s a list of our picks.

Maine’s Black-capped Chickadee


Adopted as state bird in 1927, the tiny and outgoing black-capped chickadee is curious and energetic, even with humans. It likes to investigate its surroundings, often quickly finding home areas and bird feeders. This bird is beyond cute, with a round head, small frame, and its fee-bee chirp. When alarmed they have a slight sound variation adding more ee-ee notes  They are found in forests, woodlots and residential areas. As omnivores, they eat caterpillars, spiders, and seeds and berries, sometimes hiding them in tree bark crevices, and surprisingly remembering where they hid them. The most amazing behavior trait occurs between males and females: when a pair bonds they remain together for life. Male chickadees are also of the helpful type, feeding their mate when she’s building the nest or when she is brooding. If only humans couples could be more likes this.

New York’s Eastern Bluebird



How lovely would it be to find you? Designated state bird of New York in 1970, the eastern bluebird is known for its wonderful royal blue hue. This plump, medium-sized songbird has a short tail, round head, and a short black bill. Females display a slightly duller hue. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to spot. If you hear a Tu-wheet-tudu warbling whistle or dry chatter, you’ve got yourself a tiny blue friend. Their diet consists mostly of insects and small fruits. And when it comes to mating, these birds practice the opposite of reciprocity. The males use a nest demonstration to attract females by  bringing materials for nest-buildinggoing in and out of the nest, then flying above waving their wings, making it the only time they contribute. Clever male bluebirds.

Louisiana’s Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican


This gentle brown bird was a favorite of early European settlers in Louisiana for its kindness and nurturing quality towards kids, and since then it has remained a state symbol. Not only was it adopted in 1966, but it appears in the state’s flag, and the official nickname of Louisiana is the pelican state. The brown pelican is rare among the world’s seven pelican species; it’s the only dark pelican and the only one to dive down from the air to catch its food, which it scoops up with its oversized bill. It disappeared in 1961 due to use of pesticide, but was later repopulated by Louisiana, and recovered in 1995. The brown pelican prefers seafood cuisinemunching on anchovies, herring, and sailfin mollies in coastal areas.

Florida’s Northern Mockingbird



The northern mockingbird, made state bird in 1927, is known for its unique vocal abilities, singing up to 200 songs. They can even mimic other bird sounds, as well as insects, amphibians, and mechanical noises. So, if you think you’re hearing distinct birdsnope, it’s just the mockingbird playing tricks on you (hence the name). These birds can sing through the night. And if the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve read the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and are aware of its symbol for innocence.  

 New Mexico’s Greater Roadrunner



When the Greater Roadrunner is not busy trying to escape from the evil grips of a coyote, it’s enjoying life in the deserts and shrubby areas of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. The greater roadrunner, often called the chaparral bird, was adopted as state bird of New Mexico in 1949. Though it has the ability to fly, it loves hanging out in the ground, where it can run at a speed of 15 miles per hour or more when it’s running after insects, small reptiles, scary scorpions, and small birds, among others. This bird is a true renegade, distinguished by its quickness and ability to kill rattlesnakes. Hopi and Pueblo Indian tribes believed that the roadrunner protected against malignant spirits. The Greater Roadrunner’s X-shaped footprints were used as sacred symbols to keep evil spirits at bay.

Oklahoma’s Scissor-Tailed Fly Catcher



The scissor-tailed fly catcher was adopted in 1951, and is protected by law. Its diet consists of insect species such as grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. These songbirds sing sharp notes with rising, speedy pitches. Their tails are twice as long as their bodies and they catch prey by aerial hawking, but they will also grab insects off plants. These birds are the type to hang out on tree tops and utility wires, exhibiting their striking tails. They typically have a late summer flock, with 1000 birds gathering before migration to southern Mexico and central America for the winter. The scissor-tailed fly catcher practices reusing, which we humans find so difficult. They use human materials to create nests: strings, cloth, paper, wool, carpet fuzz, and even cigarette filters.

Maryland’s Baltimore Oriole



With its vibrant orange color, the Baltimore oriole can easily be distinguished. Adopted in 1947, it lives in deciduous trees, though not deep in the forest but in woodland and forest edges. Females are typically brownish olive and dull orange, while the male’s plumage is a brighter golden orange, with a black tail and white edges. A provision was made to protect them in 1882, along with the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1975. It has experienced decline since the destruction of breeding habitat and tropical winter habitat. Toxic pesticide ingested by insects, which is a main component of their diet, has also lessened their numbers. The baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, is named after this bird.

Iowa’s American Goldfinch



Also called the wild canary, the American goldfinch was adopted in 1933 and is found throughout Iowa, usually staying around for winter months. Its diet consists of dandelions, sunflowers, ragweed, and evening primrose. The American goldfinch is considered a  strict vegetarian in the bird world, mostly eating vegetables and rarely munching on insects. Males have a bright yellow color with black wings, tails, and top of the head. The females’ colors are a muted olive yellow for the body, and dark brown tails and wings. Lovebirds of this species make the same flight call, and can differentiate between other couples’.

Nature Lovers: State Parks for Popping the Question

Romantic love has long been inspired by nature. In the early 19th century, the artistic movement known as Romanticism sought to locate truth and beauty in the wonders of the natural world. It’s no coincidence that so many of the metaphors and images of romantic love – flowers, sunsets, sparkling diamonds, and stars – are from the observation of nature. For nature lovers who also happen to be in love, what better location than a sublime mountain vista or pacific sunset to finally pop that question? Without further ado, we give you the five most romantic proposal spots in North America:



Niagara Falls State Park, New York

Your heart is overflowing with love and Niagara Falls is overflowing with water – some 80,000 cubic feet of it every second. Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest and one of the most iconic state parks in the United States. It also appears to have been made for popping the question: one of the main falls is even called Bridal Veil Falls. If you’re going to propose at Niagara Falls, we suggest you do it now because in 50,000 years the Falls will cease to exist when erosion causes it to retreat into Lake Erie. Love fades. So do waterfalls.



Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a storybook land populated by age-old giants known as coastal redwoods. The huge old-growth forest contains numerous 1,000 year old trees measuring upwards of 300 feet. The canopy of the redwood forest is so dense that it blots out the sun, leaving a dark and lush undergrowth of mosses and ferns. If your idea of a romantic spot is Narnia or Middle Earth then Humboldt is for you. What says everlasting commitment better than a 1,000 year old tree?



Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock is believed to be the birth place of modern rock climbing. The centerpiece of the park, Smith Rock, features outstanding views of the Meandering River and surrounding Cascade Mountains. Imagine you and your beaux are rock climbers and decide to do a tandem climb up world-famous Morning Glory Wall. You’re 200 feet up a vertical rock face when suddenly your sweetheart turns to you and pops the question. Depending on the answer, the remaining climb to the top is either the most exhilarating or worst of all time.



John Pennekamp State Park, Florida

John Pennekamp was the first of its kind: 70 nautical miles of crystal clear water, coral reefs, and tropical marine life. You can probably guess where we’re going with this: underwater proposal time! It would be like the Little Mermaid minus the part where Ursula tries to crash the wedding by drowning everybody. Imagine swimming along, admiring the sea life, and all of a sudden your significant other hands you some beautiful tropical seashell. You open it up – yes, it just happens to be hinged -and there’s a sparking wedding ring inside. Watch out for barracudas, because they’re attracted to bling – seriously.


Know Your Mountains: A Geological Primer


Kings of the Mountain: The Rockies [Image:]

Mountains have always been considered special or sacred. A reason for this is that they bridge two worlds: the earth, where people tend to live, and the sky, where gods tend to live. Like people, no two mountains are alike; in fact, due to continuous erosion, no one mountain is alike. We tend to think elevation distinguishes mountains, but it’s the lesser known factors like age, geologic composition, and plate tectonics that really sets them apart – literally. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a mountain is “a natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising more or less abruptly from the surrounding level and attain an altitude which, relative to the adjacent elevation, is impressive or notable.” Geologists identify three main types of mountains: volcanic, fold, and block. Lucky for us, all three can be observed in our national and state parks.

Volcanoes are some of the most dramatic and deadly mountains on earth. Volcanoes form through a process called subduction in which one tectonic plate slides beneath another. Above large-scale areas where this is taking place, called subduction zones, volcanoes form in ranges called volcanic arcs. An excellent example of a volcanic arc is the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascade Arc contains 20 major volcanoes with 12 exceeding elevations over 10,000 feet. The most recent major eruption in this area was Mount St. Helens in 1980. The majority of these are known as stratovolcanoes, such as Mt. Rainier below.

Mt. Rainier Stratovolcano [image:]

Mt. Rainier Stratovolcano [Image:]

The low undulating Alleghenies are fold mountains formed during the Appalachian orogeny which occurred approximately 325 million years ago. The orogeny, or mountain-causing event, occurred when the North American and African continental plates smashed into one another. During their glory years, the Alleghenies were as elevated and rugged as the Rockies or the Alps. We think they’ve settled nicely into old age.

Allegheny Mountains [image:]

Allegheny Mountains [Image:]

Devil’s Tower was the first declared United States National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Technically speaking, Devil’s Tower is an igneous intrusion or laccolith located in the Black Hills of Wyoming. Devil’s Tower was formed approximately 40 million years ago when igneous rock -rock formed through the cooling of lava or magma- was thrust or intruded through the layers of sedimentary rock above. The site is considered sacred and has figured heavily into the mythology of numerous Native American tribes.

Devil's Tower [image:]

Devil’s Tower [Image:]

The Yosemite Valley, contained within Yosemite National Park, is a glacial valley whose geological heritage belongs to the surrounding Basin and Range region of western United States. The majority of these mountains, including those found in Yosemite Valley, are block fault or tilted block fault formations composed of granitic and metamorphic rock-rock formed from other types of rock. The dramatic angles and unimpeded verticality we associate with Yosemite Valley is the result of extensive faulting combined with significant glacial erosion.

Yosemite Valley [image:]

Yosemite Valley [Image:]


White-tailed Deer Hunting in Pennsylvania with Pocket Ranger®

The white-tailed deer is one of the most popular and abundant big game species in North America. If you live in the lower 48, chances are you live in close proximity to white-tailed deer or one of its cousins, such as mule or black-tailed deer. Despite their large size (between 100 and 300 pounds), whitetails are nimble and alert creatures that spend their morning and evening hours stealthily browsing the forest floor. In addition to having keen eyesight and hearing, whitetails possess a sense of smell that is a thousand times greater than a human’s. Hunting them requires planning, persistence, and a general awareness of whitetail behavior.

State Game Lands, Wildlife Management Areas, and State or National Forests

Hunting pressure, lower deer densities, lack of road accessibility, and rugged or difficult terrain generally make public land hunts more difficult than private ones. However, if what you’re after is a large and mature buck, then head to the deep woods where hunting pressure is low, food is abundant, and older deer can survive. This is where GPS and tracking features on your Pocket Ranger® can help you navigate and scout the far reaches of the forest. For this particular hunt, I will be using Mt. Nittany Conservancy, an 850-acre tract of mountainous terrain located in Centre County, Pennsylvania.

Mt. Nittany Conservancy with Access Points Highlighted

Mt. Nittany Conservancy with Access Points Highlighted

Preparing for the Hunt: Scouting

The single most important factor in determining your hunt’s success is pre-season scouting. Scouting should begin in the late summer, but since I didn’t have time I went out a few days before the hunt and marked locations on my Pocket Ranger® that I knew from previous years offered good visibility, proximity to food sources, and excellent deer sign. The specific location I chose offered good shooting lanes, deer trails, and overlooked a flat area on the mountain slope that narrowed to west, creating a natural funnel or pinch point for deer as they foraged acorns. I would be hunting directly uphill from this pinch point. On the Pocket Ranger® screenshot below, the blue point indicates where I will set up while the deer icon above it indicates heavily trafficked deer trails. Don’t forget to choose a spot that offers good luck, too.

White-tailed deer scouting map

PocketRanger® Showing My Location (in blue) Relative to Access Roads and Deer Trails

Day of the Hunt: Minimizing your Body’s Impact

When entering the woods before dawn, remember to lower your phone’s brightness so that you won’t diminish your eye’s natural ability to see in lowlight conditions. You also want to minimize your sound, which is done in two ways: first, by taking as few steps as possible in getting to your setup; second, by taking the quietest possible steps. Use the app’s GPS feature to proceed in as straight a line as possible while using short strides in a toe-to-heel fashion in order to ‘feel out’ the terrain in front of you. In my case, I would be setting up against a large tree on the western-facing slope of a mountain (western-facing slopes will be warmer than eastern facing slopes and deer like warmth). Masking or minimizing your own odor is also crucial to hunting success and can be achieved most effectively by setting up into the wind so that it blows your scent in the opposite direction you are hunting. In deer hunting, let the landscape and wind conditions dictate your hunt as opposed to imposing your hunt on the landscape.

Taking the Ethical Shot

Around 8 a.m., I noticed a small 6-point buck working his way along the slope. Since this is public land and bucks are hard to come by, I was thrilled and began to prepare myself for the shot. Looking through my riflescope, I noticed the 6-point deer was spooked and had his attention on something else. Suddenly, a larger 8-point deer appeared over the ridge at 100 yards and ran the 6-point off. Since he was not in the mood to stop and feed, I waited for the deer to pass between two large trees and made a bleat-like noise to freeze him. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and placed the shot in the vital organs. The buck died instantly.

A Mature White-Tailed Deer image:

A Mature White-Tailed Deer [image:]

A Note on Hunting

Lastly, I would like to remind myself as well as relate to the reader some of the reasons why I hunt and why I consider the practice of hunting to be inherently valuable. I decided rather late in life (25) to hunt because I wanted to experience, in the barest possible of ways, the simple yet stark connection between eating meat and the death it precludes. For most of us who shop at grocery stores and live in cities, knowledge of the meat-giving animal’s existence is not part of everyday life; however, by participating in taking an animal’s life and butchering it myself, I have found the experience of eating and enjoying meat to be of greater significance and one I will never take for granted. Remember, nearly every public forest or game land across the country abounds with delicious wild animals (organic and free-ranging is an understatement) that will safely and affordably feed you and your loved ones. Just take your Pocket Ranger® so you don’t get lost during the chase.

Successful whitetail hunting depends on planning.

The Author with 8-point Pennsylvania Buck


Flaming French Toast

We’re loving Mother Nature Network’s collection of campground recipes! We can’t wait to gorge on french toast test out this recipe for our Cookout Recipe Challenge.

Have you entered yet?


Campfire French Toast: Whip up this tasty breakfast in minutes over a campfire or your camp stove.
Gourmet backpacking breakfast recipes