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Wyoming Songbirds Put on a Show

PHOTO: The horned lark is one of the birds that makes an appearance in Wyoming in the spring. Some stay to breed, with about 25 percent headed to Canada's boreal forest for breeding. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: The horned lark is one of the birds that makes an appearance in Wyoming in the spring. Some stay to breed, with about 25 percent headed to Canada's boreal forest for breeding. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
May 14, 2013

CASPER, Wyo. - From their beautiful songs to their stunning colors, birds are putting on their best displays this time of year in Wyoming. It's the spring migration season, and many of the birds seen at backyard feeders and soaring across the sky right now are headed north to Canada's boreal forest. It's the largest intact forest on Earth, and it's a destination for literally billions of birds.

According to Dr. Jeff Wells, senior scientist with the Boreal Songbird Initiative, most of the flying is done at night, so people don't realize how massive it is.

"It's like a river of birds that flows north and splits up into smaller streams and tributaries as they're migrating," he said. "Tens of millions, hundreds of millions, that are moving daily."

About three billion of North America's land birds and 26 million waterfowl breed in the boreal forest. Locally, the horned lark moves through Wyoming. Some birds stay here to breed, although a study from the University of Wyoming two years ago found that horned lark populations have declined in areas with dense oil and gas development.

Wells said many birds also face development pressures even when they get to the boreal forest.

"It is an area that is under threat from mining, forestry, oil and gas, hydro, lots of different factors," he delared. "And it is being impacted by climate change."

Track your favorite birds' migration journey on the Boreal Songbird Initiative website.

The University of Wyoming study on songbirds, including horned larks, is at bit.ly/1270AeB.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY