Solstice Marks Height of the Breeding Season for Many Birds

Jun 24, 2015

This past weekend, was the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Of course, every day is the same length and comprised of 24 hours so to be more accurate these are the days with the most hours, minutes and seconds of daylight north of the equator. The length of day causes me to pause and ponder the wonder of the seasons, the planets geography, and birds breeding biology to take advantage of both.

If we were standing further north as you hear this, at the imaginary line we call the Arctic Circle, located at 66 degrees 33 minutes North Latitude, the sun would move around the horizon, low in the sky, with no sunrise or sunset, the sun never setting as it continues its orbit around the horizon. This is far different from anything most humans are familiar with.

We, as a species, evolved in and are basically tropical and temperate region creatures, a scant few have learned to live in the harsh Arctic environment. There is no sunrise and sunset in the Arctic at this season. The sun is just there, low in the sky, moving around the horizon. The expression, “land of the midnight sun” is used because it is daylight, 24/7 in mid-June at the higher latitudes. Summer in the far north is an Arctic dream.

Conversely, if we were unfortunately visiting the Antarctic, it is the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere. If we were at the imaginary line called the Antarctic Circle, located at 66 degrees 33 minutes South Latitude, one would be standing on ice over a mile thick in frighteningly cold conditions in total darkness, absent the Austral Borealis or astronomical light. Sunrise would not come for several months.

The above digression is an attempt to put a bit of perspective on the calendar, an overview of the bigger picture. Changes in latitude, changes in attitude, as Mr. Jimmy Buffet has written apply to the natural world. Birds are the ultimate migratory species on this planet. Especially the shorebirds and as they fly from continent to continent, north to south and back, annually, their biorhythms, their attitudes, change dramatically with latitude.

They, as have most long distance migratory birds, have adapted a pattern of movement that enables them to utilize vast areas of the planet that are only suitable to their species for a scant couple of months or longer. The longer distance a particular species migrates, the more highly developed its synchronicity.

The birds gather in migratory flocks and travel, feed, rest - in fact do everything together. This ensures that when they make their final flight north to the vast tundra regions they will be able to find their own kind and quickly begin courting, laying eggs and hatching young. Their biological clocks run on an incredibly precise timepiece that compared to humans are of an entirely different caliber.

This is the breeding season and birds all over the Cape and Islands, in fact all over the Northern Hemisphere are busy making more birds. Familiar Carolina Wrens, Black-capped Chickadees, Gray Catbirds and American Robins have already fledged one batch of young and are close to bringing off a second brood. Most other birds here are now busy feeding young.

Remember if you find a baby bird the best thing you can do for it is to leave it alone and get any 4-legged creatures, domestic or wild out of the immediate area. The adult birds know right where the chick is and will continue feeding it until it develops further.