Birds Without BordersApril 9, 2013
Residents in harsh and cold climate areas from the north are raised with the knowledge that our finely feathered bird friends fly south for the winter and return home in spring. When the birds start packing up for their migration in the autumnal months, historical humans knew to either bundle up or begin their own nomadic trek for survival. Nowadays, bird migration is easier to ignore, but sometimes one has to wonder about the epic trips these birds undertake.
First off, our avian earth-mates don’t travel south simply because they are too cold. In fact, most birds can handle extreme temperatures. However, the diet of choice for them includes things that aren’t available in the north during the winter months. So, avoiding starvation is the prime motivation for them to hit the clouds south. There they will find a steady food supply. Somehow they can sense seasonal changes and they instinctually know it’s time to feast on southern cuisine.
Studies show that birds leave and return to the same general areas each year at almost the same exact time as the year before, give or take a week. We have some clues about how they know where they are going and how they get back safely each spring, but as of now there are no definite answers. Some say odors play a big part in their guidance, but those that study birds who make long migratory trips over water believe that magnetic fields influence the bird’s inner compass, directing them in a way that goes beyond anything a human can do without technical aid.
Birds that migrate incredibly large distances, like say from Canada to South America, do most of the flying at night. When flying over large bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, there are no pit stops. So, these birds forego a lot of sleep to get where they are going and have to watch out for each other very closely.
Practical minds often question why birds don’t just stay in the south year round, but one has to remember how important it is for their life cycle to return to the north. Spring is big for mating and birds aren’t just creatures of habit. Abundant resources are the main motivator, once again. As warmer climates heat up, water sources dry up so fierce competition around bodies of water would be an issue. When they return home, they also go back to their jobs of keeping the insect and rodent population in check for us humans, which if you think about it, is kind of selfless on their parts.
Birds are pretty amazing when you give them some serious thought. Not all migrate, as some can tolerate the winter pretty well. But, the ones that make the annual journey and find their way back home are so spectacular that scientists are still funding studies to further examine their unique abilities.