Purple Martins migrating south along Lake Ouachita at sunset
Purple Martins migrating south along Lake Ouachita at sunset

Come spring, you’ll find me on the water. 

For both Arkansans and out of state visitors, water is vital to recreational activities our state is known for–fishing, kayaking, swimming, and so much more. In preserving these waters, your parks invite you and future generations to make memories in the natural state. 

Come by the water and you’ll find me birding. 

We are not the only ones that benefit from the protected waters of Arkansas State Parks. An Arkansas State Park near you is protecting birds for the future. In protecting aquatic spaces, the parks provide needed habitat for some 325 migratory bird species. Every year, these birds travel thousands of miles to find warmer climates, food, and nesting grounds. With preserved land that includes rivers, wetlands, and lakes, Arkansas is an ideal stop to the traveling bird. You can enjoy both aquatic recreational opportunities and birds in Arkansas on World Migratory Bird Day.

Lake Chicot State Park

Come May, you’ll find me celebrating. 

World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is the only international education program that celebrates the migration of birds between nesting habitats in North America and non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Celebrated annually on the second Saturday of May (this year on May 13), Arkansas State Parks and other outdoor organizations join WMBD to explore different aspects of migratory birds and their conservation. This year’s World Migratory Bird Day campaign will focus on the theme: “Water: Sustaining Bird Life”. 

As we celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on May 13, consider the following questions:

How would your state park experiences be without birds? How would life be different without birds? And how are parks and other organizations working to ensure the preservation of birds, and your enjoyment of them, for the future? 

How do migratory birds fit into park habitats

Imagine a pair of barn swallows greet you as you enter the Visitor Center at Village Creek State Park. The nooks of the building provide an excellent spot for their sturdy nests. In fact, many swallows return to the same nest each year they migrate. The two lakes in the park (Austell and Dunn) act as a hatchery to flying insects, the preferred meal of the swallow. You get a little distracted as you watch them gracefully dive through the air, chasing their supper. 

Imagine seeing a group of American White Pelicans when you go fishing at Lake Dardanelle State Park. As one of the largest birds in America, the pelican stands out, especially so when you catch them in a feeding group. You watch them form an organized line and swim towards the far shoreline, herding fish together. Don’t worry, they’ll leave plenty of fish for you. 

Pelican flying in the sky above Lake Dardanelle

Imagine you have just finished your coffee at Mount Magazine State Park and decide to start your morning with a stroll around the lodge. A small brown bird catches your attention, darting in and out of a nearby shrub. Later, you overhear guests at a nearby table excitedly talking about the Rufous-crowned sparrow. You share your description of the bird you saw that morning. It turns out the bird you spent the morning with is a species only found in the state at Mount Magazine State Park. It prefers the shrubs that line the rocky bluffs. Many birders come to the park to add the bird to their life list.

Garden outside of the Skycrest Restaurant at Mount Magazine State Park

Imagine your child has voiced an interest in birding. You research parks that will make for a good family vacation and come across Millwood State Park. The park is a designated Important Bird Area with sightings of over 300 of the state’s 400 species on record. Hooded Mergansers, Ospreys, Franklin’s gulls, and Tree Swallows are just a few migratory birds that you might see. You book a site and together, you and your child count down the days until the trip, building up the excitement.

Great Egret flying just over the foliage along Millwood Lake

How would your state park experience be without birds? Arkansas is home to over 400 bird species, many of them migratory. Our state lies within the Mississippi Flyway migration route. Looking at a map, this route funnels across the United States, narrowing in on the state of Arkansas. This means that several migratory birds rely on our state, especially our waterways, to provide ample habitat for feeding, drinking, nesting, and resting as they travel the world.  

Twenty-five of Arkansas State Parks include a water body of some type. Aquatic ecosystems are becoming increasingly threatened around the world, and so are the migratory birds that depend on them. By preserving aquatic habitats such as lakes and rivers, Arkansas State Parks are not only amazing recreational locations, but also continue to provide for our local and migratory bird species. 

White Oak Lake State Park

Why is saving/protecting habitat at State Parks important?

No matter who you are – your age, your background, your beliefs, whether you are having a good day or need some cheering – the birds will sing for you in the preserved outdoor spaces of Arkansas State Parks. These songs add so much to our park experiences, but they also signify so much more. 

Both residential and migratory birds provide many benefits to our state. They act as pest control – consuming flies, horseflies, and other insects that negatively affect camping trips and farmers alike. They act as pollinators. The ruby-throated hummingbird, for example, travels 3,500 miles from Canada to Panama each year, many stopping in Arkansas along the way. These birds pollinate our native flowers, lending to a more colorful, vibrant park experience. Finally, birds play a critical role in the food chain. Some birds are sources of food for other Arkansan wildlife while other birds act as predators, keeping other animal populations in check. 

When you visit a state park and hear a diversity of bird songs, you are hearing the future of Arkansas. Because of the role that birds play in our world, these songs act as biological indicators that the Natural State is staying ... natural, Our state offers amazing outdoor experiences for generations to come. 

Birds connect our worlds. People connect to protect them.

Why are international treaties important for conservation?

The benefits and songs birds provide in Arkansas cross state lines and borders. The same painted bunting you see in the spring may also be spotted by a stranger in Florida and then later by another in Cuba. Migratory birds depend on breeding, resting, and wintering sites along flyways that often span several continents. Our world is connected by birds.

It takes us connecting to protect them.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 has done much to protect the birds that are an irreplaceable part of the Arkansas State Park experience. This act prohibits the take (killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transport) of protected migratory bird species without authorization. Originally between the United States and Canada, the act has evolved to implement treaties between the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia. These treaties protect the birds that occur in multiple countries at some time during their annual migration. Today, 1,026 species (almost every native species in the United States) are protected.

Moro Bay State Park

And the movement to protect the birds continues to grow, largely through the education and conservation programs provided by various organizations around the world. Arkansas State Parks plan events and programs throughout the year so that you can learn more about the connections between birds and our parks.

On World Migratory Bird Day (May 13), you can join Arkansas State Parks in celebrating the birds that connect us together and the people all over the world who work together to protect them. 

Make sure to visit our calendar to see the different Migratory Bird Day programs parks are organizing across the state. Go on a bird hike led by a park interpreter. Book a lake tour to watch migratory waterfowl. Grab your flashlights to experience the birds that come out at night. Or simply sit on a park bench and listen to the birds sing. By visiting and engaging in the parks, you play a part in protecting the birds that rely on them. 

An Arkansas State Park near you is protecting birds for the future–not only on May 13, but throughout the year. Bird day is every day and that is something to celebrate. 

Come spring, you’ll find me on the water, enjoying a bird song as I kayak the lake.