Bird is the Word

Whooping cranes are big birds, about the size of a large child. They also have large migrations, flying from the great plains of Canada all the way down to central Texas, where they spend the winter. Even for birds with a wingspan as large as 7.5 feet across, that distance is substantial. Flying through the Great Plains of North America, the birds need to take breaks for some rest and relaxation.

That’s where wetlands come in. Wetlands are like an oasis in the plains, providing a source of water, food, and protection for the birds. They also serve as a major breeding grounds for the whooping cranes, which fly to Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada from their wintering grounds in Texas.

However, a recent study shows that the migration path is narrowing, which suggests a loss of available wetland “pit stops” for the birds. The birds can adjust their flying route to some degree, but they need wetlands to refuel. Many other migratory birds, or those which fly great distances between seasons, also depend on wetlands. These birds are important to the environment, serving as indicators for habitat health like a canary in a coal mine. Their presence is a signal of a thriving wetland, and the disappearance of these birds can mean that the wetlands are in trouble. Many migratory birds, like the whooping crane, are endangered, meaning that they are in danger of going extinct throughout most of their range. 

Wetlands aren’t just essential for the birds; they also support the economy. The diversity of birds and other wildlife that depend on wetlands attract wildlife enthusiasts and other people engaged in recreational activities, which make up multi-billion dollar industries. Outdoor recreation alone contributes $887 billion to the US economy and supports 7.6 million American jobs!

You don’t need to fly large distances to visit a wetland—there are wetlands across the US that you can visit on a short road trip. Just like a migratory bird, you can take a pit stop at a wetland and see the habitats that are important to wildlife recovery. If you aren’t able to make it out to a wetland, find out more about what you can do in your community to help protect wetlands and the migratory birds that depend on them.