Flying animals have their own flight zones but they can change with weather conditions. Last week I was called regarding a Common Loon stranded in a farm field. Loons are very heavy birds and must run on the water for a considerable distance to become airborne. It is impossible for them to take flight from land. They cannot even walk on land because their legs are set back too far and their chest rests on the ground.
People told me the loon appeared to be ok and was calling from the field. Immediately I wondered if it hit a power line and tumbled to the ground. We headed for the site to determine how to help it. Thirty minutes lapsed between the time people left the bird and we returned. The bird was gone when we returned.
Other people had been watching and perhaps someone transported the loon to water. It is wonderful to help wildlife but people should know that it is illegal and often dangerous for the wildlife. It is best to call the Michigan DNR or a wildlife rehabilitator.
Many birds can be observed at this time of year but it is more likely to hear them. Each species has its own “fly zone.” Some remain high in the tree canopy and are very difficult to observe, like the Red-eyed Vireo or Cerulean Warbler. To see a Cerulean Warbler I suggest attending the Cerulean Warbler Festival at Michigan Audubon’s Otis Sanctuary near Hastings, during the first weekend of June. Look at Michigan Audubon’s Website for details.
Some birds like the American Robin and Eastern Phoebe are commonly seen in our yards. Robins fly from vegetation to lawn and forest floor in search of a meal. Phoebes perch near open areas and “hawk” insects by flying out to capture insects in the air and return to a perch. Protect healthy nature niches in home yards by avoiding chemicals that create a monoculture of grass. Allow other plants to grow among the grass because they support a variety of life essential for native birds and it allows them to find enough insects to feed the young. A picture perfect lawn is a sterile desert to wildlife.
On cool sunny days I often see insects in a very narrow fly zone, within inches of the ground. You might need a jacket but when you bend feel how warm the air is close to the ground. It might surprise you how many insects are present in that narrow fly zone close to the ground. I watched White-crowned Sparrows outside my window that appeared to be feeding in that narrow zone. I could not see anything they could feed on.
I went outside and got close to the ground to see what might present. There were massive numbers of minute flies much smaller than mosquitoes flying just above the grass. The sparrows were feasting on the tiny morsels. It seems they would not get adequate nutrition from such tiny creatures but volume counts.
On chilly days, butterflies stay close to the ground to take advantage of the thin thermal blanket of air warmed by the sun. When wind is present, the thin area close to the ground is even more important. Insects do not have internal heat regulation like we do. They must depend on the surrounding environment to provide their heat.
By using behavior that keeps them in warm fly zones, they can survive unless a bird finds them concentrated in fly zones. Even then, an abundance of insects allows enough to survive to reproduce, provided we allow our yards to become healthy nature niches for insects and birds.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.