In the winter of 2012 through 2013, the first superflight since the winter of '97-'98 took place. This would be the first superflight to take place in a 15 year span. But what exactly is a superflight? A superflight is quite different from an irruption. You probably know that an irruption is when a particular species of bird pushes it's range much further north, south, east, or west than it normally reaches. For instance, a few years back the Great Gray Owl irruption took place. This was an irruption because this owl is a resident of the far north, residing mainly in Canada. However, a few years back, Great Gray Owls moved much farther south than their range usually goes. Their range, which usually stays within Canada, reached all the way down into the midst of Minnesota. This is an example of an irruption. However, a superflight is much different, as I will explain presently.
A superflight is when an entire range of species migrates much further north, south, east, or west than their normal ranges permits, in a huge wave. Basically, a superflight is an irruption of many species at the same time. The 2012-2013 superflight will be used as my example of explaining what a superflight is. As stated before, a superflight is many species moving out of their normal range, not just two or three species. A superflight is usually when four or more species extend out of their normal range. This winter, the superflight involved 8 different species. The species in this year's superflight included Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Red Crossbills, and White-Winged Crossbills. There was a wave of all of these species moving far out of there normal range. For instance, Red-Breasted Nuthatche's winter range goes into the entire state of Florida, but they aren't very common in Florida in winter. However, this year, Red-Breasted Nuthatches went all the way south, and were commonly sighted and reported to eBird in many of the southern states. They [red-breasted nuthatches] aren't even very common in Ohio in most winters, but this year they were commonly reported in Ohio, and states even farther north. This is just and example of how far out of their normal range birds will go, but this year, 8 different species that normally dwell in the far northern portions of the continent extended far south of their normal range. Some even extended east and west of their normal range. Now that what a superflight is has been covered, I will explain what causes a superflight.
All of the birds species in this winter's superflight are summer residents of the far norther portions of the continent, many making their summer homes far north in Canada. In winter, the birds go farther south so that they can find more food. The birds go where the food is, as they say. In irruption years, these birds travel far out of their normal range, usually south, where the weather is somewhat warmer, and where more food is usually present. Here are some reasons why food can be scarce. In some years, trees can save up energy and produce many more seeds than in normal years. The birds that live far north often eat alot of seeds from pinecones, because pine trees are very common in their northern habitats. When the birds have more seeds, they have no need to travel south. But the year after many seeds are produced, fewer seeds are produced the next year. This will cause the birds to push their range south, extending farther south than usual to get food. Another reason for less food is that towns are farther apart in Canada and the northern United States, so that the distance between bird feeders is greater than the distance in more populated areas like Ohio and Indiana.
This is the basic info about superflights. So, what new species dod you see due to this winter's superflight? I added the Pine Siskin and Red-Breasted Nuthatch to my life list. Only 2 out of the 8 species in the superflight, but at leats I added any. And besides, the winter isn't over. I could yet add another species or two from the superflight to my list. The still have to travell north, you know...