Latest For the Birds column: For some birds, humans are a rarity

Here’s the latest For the Birds column. This one’s a little different. Let me know what you think. Thanks for taking a look at

Photo by Chris Bosak Yellow-rumped Warbler in Selleck's Woods, Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Yellow-rumped Warbler in Selleck’s Woods, Darien, Conn., April 2014.

Is it possible that the bird in your backyard has never seen a human before?

It’s not likely, but if there were ever a time for that happen, it’s during the fall migration.

If we were a little farther north in New England, the odds would be much greater. Even in the middle of New England, however, the possibility still exists — at least in my very unscientific estimation. The adult birds, those that flew through our region on their northern migration in the spring, have almost certainly seen humans.

But first-year birds, those born a few short months ago, who knows? Maybe you are the first human one is seeing.

It would take a relatively cautious bird species that breeds in the vast Boreal Forest of the northern U.S. and Canada. So a Gray Catbird or Baltimore Oriole passing through has likely seen plenty of humans already, having likely been born in the suburbs.

But one of any number of warbler, vireo or flycatcher species that breeds in the Boreal Forest is a possible candidate for you being the first human they’ve seen. The Boreal Forest is an immense wilderness of more than one billion acres. I’ve been camping up there dozens of times and finding complete and utter solitude is easily accomplished. I’ve been miles away from the nearest store, building, home, cabin, campsite, phone pole, paved road. Being in that vastness is perhaps my favorite way to spend a few hours or even a few days.

So let’s say a bird is born among those billion acres. It is raised in an area where the nearest human may very well be dozens of miles away. Chances are it will have never come across a human until it’s time to fly south, anywhere from late August to October. Many first-year birds undergo their first migration on their own, using their instincts to navigate to their wintering grounds.

The distance covered per night varies from species to species and even bird to bird, but let’s say in our scenario that a first-year bird covers about 30 miles per night. That’s about what many first-year songbirds do on their first migration. So if our bird were born and raised near the Canadian border it would be roughly 350 miles from Connecticut, meaning it would take about 12 days to get here.

It is likely that when it drops down in the morning from its night’s flight, it will pick a heavily wooded area that at least somewhat resembles its Boreal birthplace. Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are heavily wooded with lots of large tracts of unspoiled wilderness, so it’s conceivable that several of its stops along the way will be in areas void of humans.

So, it’s not unheard of that a first-year bird could make its stops in areas where there are no houses or humans, even as they head south to more populated areas of the state. Of course, even those areas are often visited by hikers, mountain bikers and birdwatchers, so who knows?

One thing is for sure, though: If you aren’t outdoors you have no chance of being the first human a bird will see. Not that you would know anyway, but it’s pretty fun to think about.

2 thoughts on “Latest For the Birds column: For some birds, humans are a rarity

  1. This is an interesting concept… Never thought of being a creature’s first human! Made me think of how much my dad loved the wilderness areas of New Mexico and shared those with us, backpacking into the mountains, up to difficult to reach mountain lakes nestled between peaks. Really lovely memories… Love to find such places in New England or Canada.. Have any suggestions? A go-to site with maps?


  2. A good change of pace. Fine for you to experiment with the blog, of course. I’d qualify the idea with “seeing a human up close,” since it would be hard not to pass over roads, even in Vermont. But it’s still a thought-provoking idea, being the first human.


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