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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Birds migrate at night

'Tis September, the season of migration, a magical time that has often inspired poets.

Today, I came across this poem by Jan Haag and I decided to share it with you, because it is true.  Birds do migrate at night, and if you go outside at night and are quiet and listen, you may hear them by the thousands passing over your head.  On moonlit nights, you may even see them or see their silhouettes against the moon.  Twice a year, spring and autumn, on fragile but powerful wings, they make this trip, through the night, while the world sleeps.


                               by Jan Haag

Birds migrate at night.
Be quiet, listen carefully:
you can hear the lift and fall of the wings,
two notes of a song,
you can see the black images bisect
the retina of the moon,
you can guess their pattern, their flight
their destination
far away to the south in winter,
north in spring.

You can hear the lift and fall of the wings,
the single cry of a mate,
millions of birds flying through
darkness over the sea and the land
in silence, through the sleep
of other creatures.
You can guess their pattern, their flight:
formations of birds in the night,
covering the sky with the grid of their wings
making the stars blink -- intermittent.

Millions of birds flying through
as you stand on the shore in the night
over the glittering, rattled ladders of shale
hearing their wings and their flight.
You are used to rain-pattered roofs, the drumming,
as abundant and isolated as tears in the night.
You can guess their pattern, their flight.
But the birds fly in silence,
swift as the wind,
invisible to the casual eye.

Over the glittering, rattled ladders of shale
the birds cross, tangential to the sea at night.
Hour upon hour you can sense the undulation of wings.
If you lift your cheek quite carefully
you can feel the kiss and the wisp of air
stirred by the inaudible glide.
You can guess their pattern, their flight,
and, once or twice in the night, sense
the splash of a songbird's spent body caught
in the sea's phosphorescence.


  1. This is so interesting. I never knew this before. Do you happen to know why birds choose to migrate at night?

    PS Saw some Warblers and an Baltimore Oriole today. Do they migrate together or just at the same time?

  2. I believe it has to do with the fact that the flying predators that prey on them, like Cooper's Hawks, are asleep at night. Also, birds are high-energy creatures and require a lot of food so during the daylight hours, most of their time is spent in the search for food. The fact that it is cooler at night may also play into it. There may be other reasons as well. Unfortunately, the birds aren't talking!

    Mixed flocks of birds do sometimes fly together so it is possible that the orioles and warblers migrated together, but I would guess that their arrival at the same time is pure coincidence. Usually, birds that travel together are of similar size and life style, which is not true of these species.

  3. Thank you for the information. SO true...the birds aren't talking:)