Weaving Tales from the Web of Life
Today is World Migratory Bird Day—a holiday designed to celebrate the many birds that travel our globe. Why do birds migrate? Why don’t they just stay in the same place all year long? There are many reasons…warmer weather, better nesting sites, and more plentiful food are just a few.
Some birds travel very short distances. One example is North America's dusky grouse. This bird spends its winter in mountainous pine forests. In the spring, it “migrates” a mere 1,000 feet in elevation to deciduous woodlands. Here it feeds on seeds and fresh leaves.
And then there are birds that travel very long distances. One world traveler is the Arctic tern. This bird migrates an astonishing 44,000 miles annually from the Arctic to Antarctica and back again. And finally there are birds that travel distances in between those two extremes, like the turtle dove. This bird migrates about 8,000 miles a year.
You might wonder how scientists know where birds go, and how they get such accurate data about the birds’ migrations. They do this by tracking birds using satellite telemetry. Birds are fitted with small satellite tags. These tags transmit information about their journeys to scientists via orbiting satellites. You can sometimes see these satellites on dark nights. They look like tiny stars moving very slowly across the sky.
An environmental organization called the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) fitted a turtle dove named Titan with a satellite tag. Titan’s tag had a tiny satellite transmitter, a battery, and a solar panel to keep the battery charged.
Using this technology, scientists were able to track three of Titan’s migrations. The first was in the fall. Titan flew from a nesting site in Suffolk, England down to his wintering site in Mali, in West Africa. The second was in the spring when Titan migrated back to Suffolk, England, to the very site where he was originally found! The third was in the fall when he migrated back to Mali again. After that trip, the scientists lost track of Titan.
Let’s celebrate World Migratory Bird Day by learning more about migratory birds and what we can do to help protect them. Click here to view some actual turtle dove migrations.
Madeleine Dunphy has written a book based on the migration of a real turtle dove that traveled 4,000 miles from England to Mali, in West Africa. To find out more about The Turtle Dove’s Journey: A Story of Migration click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
You may know that monarch butterfly populations east of the Rocky Mountains fly to sites in Mexico for the winter. But monarchs live in the west, too, and most of them overwinter in central and southern California.
One of the largest western overwintering sites is California’s Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove. From late October through February, visitors can watch monarch butterflies clinging to the leaves and branches of giant eucalyptus trees. The butterflies are in hibernation, feeding little if at all and with their internal systems slowed down. The warmth of the sun wakes them partially, and some flutter from one spot to another. When storms threaten, the monarchs cluster on branches inside the grove where the trees help break up the heavy rain and the power of high winds.
Some may have left Canada in early September, arriving at the grove in October. They may have traveled 2,000 miles at a rate of 100 miles a day, flying as high as 10,000 feet above sea level. But it’s worth the journey. In this grove are conditions that suit them well—relative warmth, humidity, light and shade, and moderate temperatures as well as protection from stormy weather.
As weather warms and days grow longer, the winter monarchs will mate, then begin the journey northward. But these individuals don’t make it back home. The females lay their eggs on milkweed plants, then die. The eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars that grow so fast on their leafy diet that, as one website states, it’s like a human baby growing to the size of an adult gray whale in two weeks! The caterpillar pupates and emerges later as a new butterfly which mates and travels further north. This process continues for four or five generations, until summer fades with shortening days. Then the next generation of winter monarchs hatches, repeating the cycle. How does the information for this amazing cycle pass through the generations? No one knows.
Unfortunately, the western population of monarchs has declined drastically in recent years. Luckily, wherever you live, you can do things to help monarchs survive and thrive. Visit this site for more information.
The butterflies don't always stay in one place but flutter around now and then as you can see in this video.
Dorothy's new book has had rave reviews including one by Vicki Cobb. She went to Tasmania and saw what was happening. Now you can read the story.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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