Birds in Virginia

peregrin falcons nest almost annually on a ledge of the Riverfront Plaza building in Richmond
peregrine falcons nest almost annually on a ledge of the Riverfront Plaza building in Richmond
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Richmond Falcon Cam, First Egg Laid!

All birds don't fly into Virginia in the Spring and leave in the Fall - but that's pretty much what happens around Hudson Bay in Canada. When the weather gets tough, the tough get going - south. That's where there's food, unfrozen water, and warm sunshine.

What makes Virginia attractive to different species, at different times? There's a reason why the tourists go where they go, when they go, in Virginia. Just as different areas of Virginia attract different tourists during different seasons, the state offers a wide range of habitats for wildlife at different times of the year.

Tourists flock to places like Williamsburg in the summer because school is out of session and families can vacation together. Those who "hit the beach" in the summer are driven in part by the seasons; body surfing the waves or cruising the boardwalk in a bikini makes sense only between May and September. Leaf-lookers crowding the highways to Shenandoah National Park in October are getting a peek at the peak Fall colors.

The birds are as selective as a family with teenagers choosing where to vacation for a week. Some habitats that attract birds are natural, but others are man-made. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge manages 14 ponds known as "moist soil management units," totaling 2,600 acres. By raising and lowering the water at different times of the year, the refuge biologists can attract the ducks, herons, geese, and other aquatic birds.1

Geese and other birds concentrate on the refuge each winter. The bird watchers are close behind. The birds depend upon the biologists to create a setting with food and shelter each year, and the businesses in the area depend upon eco-tourism in the winter. Want a duck carving? Go to Chincoteague, and choose from decoys carved by a wide array of skilled artists.

First there were the birds, then the tourists, then the commercialism. The concentrations at Chincoteague certainly did not occur in the reverse order, starting with the tourist traps and ultimately attracting the migratory birds.

In the case of the birds, there is a long history of natural selection that affects who goes where, when. Thousands of snow geese (Chen caerulescens) migrate each Fall to the marshes on the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coastline. They show up from Assateague Island all the way south to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In the Spring, they leave - because the Canadian wetlands offer more food and fewer predators on nest sites than the Virginia marshes.

Bluebirds in Virginia

Managing Geese in Virginia

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker in Virginia

bald eagle


birder with binos
Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service


1. "Resource Management," Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service, (last checked May 13, 2016)

Habitats and Species
Virginia Places