Last night was my last Bird Life class at the Audubon Naturalist Society. I am just starting to get the slightest handle on birds, so I am sorry to be done for now. The good news for me is that there are fewer species around here in the winter. With fewer around, IDing them will be easier. Many if not most birds are migratory and in our last class migration was the main topic. The mysteries of migration are numerous and seemingly complex. No one knows quite how our world’s creepers and flappers navigate, although stars, the Earth’s polarity, and geographic features all seem to help. Birds don’t all have very long lives. Some may survive in their adult plumage for only 2-3 years. Still, that means that most migrating flocks have somebody with experience coming along. It makes me think of the idea that crowds are wiser than individuals (see the premise of The Wisdom of Crowds). Particularly this one episode of Radiolab that you should really listen to right now. Called Emergence, it is about insects as well as people and the ways that things happen seemingly randomly to produce a greater whole. What blew my mind the most was the finding that when given the chance to guess a number (the weight of an Ox) at some county fair, the guesses varied hugely and no one got it right. But when all the guesses were averaged at the end of the day, the total, in the thousands, was off by about a pound. Birds and people are often right to be followers, despite our mothers’ concern that crowds are always on the verge of jumping off cliffs.
The Monarchs have weighed heavily on my mind since Sunday’s article about their hugely depleted numbers. And it got me thinking about the amazing annual Monarch migration. Although they reportedly numbered in the billions in Mexico in recent years, this year the New York Times reports that there are only three million. They leave for Mexico from here. And none of them have done it before. The generation that returns next spring will be born down there, and they too will set off, together but with not one of them ever having done it before. What is it that tells them where to go?
How do they distribute themselves once they do reach the East Coast? How do the butterflies that lay their eggs on Milkweed near my house decide to stay in Maryland and not venture to upstate New York? There are so many wonders, and so many mysteries, and I am crossing my fingers that other people care enough to try and help the Monarchs. If we brought back Bald Eagles after DDT nearly wiped them out, I have to believe that we can bring these friends back too.
I recommend that you Google Image Monarchs in Mexico. I am including some of the images you might find there in this post, because it is so mind blowing.
Have a fruitful winter, friends. Multiply.