default blog post image

Migrating Birds of Falsterbo

In late September, there are few places in North America where I would rather be than Cape May, New Jersey, arguably the best place on the continent to watch migrating birds in the autumn. But I'm in Europe now, not North America, and this past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Cape May of Scandinavia, a place called Falsterbo. Located in southwestern Sweden, Falsterbo is a thin peninsula that juts into the ocean. In the fall, vast numbers of birds migrating south from northern Sweden, Finland, and even Russia funnel into the peninsula and pile up before crossing the small stretch of ocean separating Falsterbo from nearby Denmark. My host was Professor Thomas Alerstam, a professor at Lund University and one of the world's foremost authorities on avian migration. Standing at the tip of the peninsula, I was astonished at the number and diversity of migrating birds. Thousands of chaffinches and bramblings passed overhead, along with flocks of wood pigeons, blue tits (a type of chickadee), and jackdaws. They were joined by a steady stream of meadow pipits, siskins, barn swallows, and other species. As the sun warmed the land, creating invisible thermals, the raptors began to move, too: sparrow hawks, common buzzards, Eurasian kestrels, and red kites, along with the occasional hobby or merlin (two species of falcon). Not having much field experience with European birds, I found myself struggling to identify the fast-moving birds; Thomas and his students, on the other hand, called out the names of the various species based on their call notes and silhouettes-cues that I, as a novice, did not know. As I watched the spectacle, I was struck by the fact that throughout the northern hemisphere, from Siberia to Sweden to the United States, birds were on the move-billions and billions of birds engaged in a timeless ritual. By the afternoon, I was tired and thrilled. I asked several of my Swedish colleagues how the day's migration ranked relative to their other visits to Falsterbo. "Poor." "Mediocre." "I wish you could have seen this place on a good day," they replied. I guess it all depends on your perspective. What a "good" day at Falsterbo must be like is beyond my imagination. What do you think? Leave us a comment. ---------- David Wilcove is professor of ecology, evolutionary biology, and public affairs at Princeton University and one of the world's leading experts on endangered species. He is the author of No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations.