Baltimore Oriole. (Photo by Karl Schilling.)

This is prime time for Iowa bird watchers as spring migration season is bringing all sorts of unusual feathered travelers to our backyards, well beyond the everyday robins, sparrows and blue jays.

Avian ecologist Steve Kolbe is working to raise awareness about migratory birds as they help provide pest control, pollination and serve as a food source for other wildlife. Kolbe says migrating birds face multiple perils on their journey each year, putting the ecosystem in danger.

“They encounter a habitat that has been degraded or destroyed during migratory stopover,” Kolbe says. “It’s sort of akin to if you are used to making a trip and you’re always stopping at a gas station then all of a sudden that gas station is closed-that maybe you planned on filling up and then you have some issues finding gas before you run out.”

Kolbe says Iowans who own a certain type of pet can play a key role in helping these birds on their annual flights. “One of the things that bird researchers really stress is keeping your cats inside,” he says. “Cats are a main source of mortality for birds and especially migrant birds. It’s also safer for cats to be inside, too, so it’s a win-win.”

Kolbe also suggests helping migrating birds by putting out resources like food and water, and reporting birds that you see and their condition. He says websites like can help document changes in patterns and behaviors throughout time. Iowans can see nearly 400 types of birds throughout the year.

Radio Iowa