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Could our feathered friends be telling us something about the arrival of winter this year? 

Paula Grieef is Resident Naturalist at Oak Hammock Marsh. She confirms this year's bird migration started earlier than normal. Grieef says that means the birds finished their nesting early and are on the move. And, according to Grieef, an early migration often means an early winter.

Grieef says shorebirds are the first to leave southern Manitoba. They nest in Churchill and further north and start coming through our area near mid-July. The last of the shorebirds should be gone by the end of September. Warblers usually start their migration in early August and we should see the last of them by mid-September. Grieef says the hawk migration is also underway, while ducks and geese are just getting started.

According to Grieef, the start of the bird migration has a lot to do with the length of day. As our days get shorter, it triggers hormones and the birds get restless to journey south. But, the decision for which day to begin the trek is determined by the weather. If there is a strong south wind, Grieef says the birds aren't going anywhere. But if there is a strong north wind, they will use that to give them that extra push.

Birds can travel great distances without stopping. Grieef says most can fly between 500 and 800 kilometres without taking a break, while some can fly 80 hours nonstop.

Some of the birds we see here in southern Manitoba will spend the winter as far south as Peru. For example, barn swallows will winter in northern South America. Grieef explains barn swallows will leave our region in early September, arriving at their destination towards the end of November. But, by early March it is time for them to head back to Manitoba.

Meanwhile, Grieef says the bird migration is deadly. She notes so many different hazards end up being fatal, such as predators or even storms blowing them off course.

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