7000 miles

Category : birds

I am very very busy right now, but am nowhere near as busy as your average migrating bird is right about now. Birds cut across the Arctic, cross oceans, hemispheres, start off in Canada, end up in Brazil, fly thousands and thousands of miles all under their own power. Tiny birds that have to lay in layers of fat to make it across large bodies of water, assuming that a storm doesn’t delay them for longer than they can afford. Large birds that take advantage of thermal updrafts because they’re big and heavy and flapping is hard.  Some of them are traveling for the first time in their lives, and don’t have the faintest idea where they are going.

Imagine you want to visit a friend. You might follow landmarks, consult a map, or a series of maps, follow some road signs, ask a passerby. You still might get lost. Now imagine traveling by your own physical labor, without a map, instructions, or advice, across several countries and two continents. Now imagine doing that flawlessly, year in and year out.

Migrating birds plot their course by a complicated combination of landmarks, tracking the sun, the moon, the stars, sensing weak magnetic fields, faint odors, polarized light, barometric pressure, a whole range of things that combine with a genetically programmed urge to head in a certain direction at a certain time of the year. They can follow a range of clues to cross continents, oceans and hemispheres. We still don’t know exactly where some kinds of birds end up for portions of the year, and we still aren’t quite sure how they manage it.

That’s what I have to say about birds for today. Above is more drawings for the new book; below is a Green Heron by William Bartram. He wandered around the Southeast for five years starting in 1773, and wrote a book about it, Bartram’s Travels. The kind of Green Heron that he painted can be found from southeastern Canada to northern South America, depending on the time of the year.

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