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Frequent Flyers

Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

The more you learn about bird migration, the more you realize how incredible it is.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

What is Migration? The word migration comes from the Latin “migratus,” meaning “to change.” Usually, migration refers to birds’ seasonal flights, but other creatures migrate too. Animals, (for example, zebras); fish, (for example, salmon); and even insects (the dramatically colored Monarch butterflies fly all the way from North America to Mexico) migrate. They’re all looking for the same things, food, a safe place to raise a family, or better weather. Bird migration has been known about for thousands of years — in fact it’s written in Yirmiyahu (8:7), “The stork in the heavens knows her appointed time; and the turtledove, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming.” Many societies, however, didn’t understand migration. Until a few hundred years ago, many believed that birds hibernated to explain their disappearance in the winter! And one imaginative article published in 1703 suggested that migratory birds flew to the moon for the winter. Hmmm….   Time to Go Birds generally migrate every year and usually around the same time. In autumn the birds fly to a warmer spot to spend the cold winter, and in spring they head back north. The big question is — how do the birds know when it’s time to go? Scientists still don’t completely understand what triggers birds to migrate. What they do know is that a number of factors are involved; for example, changes in the length of the day, in the temperature, and in the food available. But apart from this, it seems the birds may have some kind of genetic “programming” that tells them to migrate — and when. We can see this even in caged birds. Curiously, caged birds of migratory species get very restless every spring and fall, trying to fly toward one side of their cage, even though they’ve never migrated in their lives.

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