Dave Feliz calls it “the bird highway in the sky.”

Feliz works for California Department of Fish and Game, as area manager for the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, and he’s talking about the Pacific Flyway.

Millions of migratory birds travel the same route every year, called the Pacific Flyway, stretching from the north slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska down to the tip of South America. An important stopover for all of those birds on the Flyway is the Central Valley, and the Yolo wildlife area in particular. Traveling south in the winter, it’s the first large area for landing that’s not frozen. The Sacramento Delta, flat and wet and full of reeds, provides lots of food and shelter. And so do the thousands of acres of rice fields in the Central Valley.

The Yolo Bypass area is actually a flood-control zone, a mix of native vegetation and stubble from harvested rice fields. So it serves many uses, and has many “stakeholders” working together – farmers, county engineers, wildlife biologists, state and local governments.

And another, more unexpected stakeholder: children. Over the past 10 years, says Robin Kulakow, executive director of the Yolo Basin Foundation, more than 30,000 grade-school students have toured the levees and ponds of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area.

Peak migration season is now. It started in November and lasts till the spring rains come, usually in March. Migratory birds are at the wildlife area year-round, because so many types of birds migrate at different times of year, to different locales. And whichever birds migrate south for the winter, those same birds migrate north after the winter. But right now, through March, is the best time to view the waterfowl and migratory birds at Yolo, wildlife experts say.

Migrating birds can be hazards for aircraft. Listen to the Birds vs. Planes radio report online. You can also check out photos from the story below, or see the full set on flickr.com.

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Reporter's Notes: Birds vs. Planes 23 January,2009David Gorn

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