Here are highlights of my favorite animals that migrate by air:
Monarch Butterflies: How in the world does this little insect travel so far?? These butterflies migrate very long distances to wintering grounds on the west coast of the United States or in Mexico. You must watch this video clip of these amazing insects.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Bisson et al., showed that migratory behavior arose independently in several species of bats to meet the need of finding food and water. This recent behavior of bats is more prominent among animals that roost in trees compared to those living in caves. Therefore, climate change may have a significant impact on migratory bats. The image below is of migrating Straw-coloured Fruit Bats that was taken in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park (from: www.AudleyTravel.com)
The extreme altitude award goes to the bar-headed goose which is able to fly well above the mountain tops of Mt. Everest where they brave the chilly thin air. You can see how they train for these flights in this entertaining clip from BBC Worldwide.
“The world’s longest migration” award goes to….*drum roll*….the arctic tern, which travel approximately 44,000 miles each year during its annual migration.
Lastly: the winner of the longest nonstop flight goes to the Alaskan bar-tailed godwits which travel up to 8 straight days over 11,000 km in their trek from Alaska to New Zealand. A recent review article published by Dr. Anders Hedenstrom from the Department of Biology at Lund University discusses potential specialized adaptations in these birds to allow for this amazing flight. What sets them apart? They are fuel efficient (more so than any man-made flying device), are fast flyers, reduce weight in flight by digesting their digestive tract, and have streamlined bodies and good wing shapes. However, these traits are not unique among shorebirds. Dr. Hedenstrom proposes that maybe these birds are just better at navigating than other species, but this has not yet been studied.
Photo taken by: Brian Chudleigh
Not-so-award winning, but still pretty neat birds:
Some bald eagles even migrate, what a site that must be! Researchers at The University of Wisconsin have been studying their migratory routes and habits. Click here to learn more about their research.
Sandhill Cranes: Agriculture has been kind to these birds as it provides food and water to encourage their migration. This video highlights how the numbers of sandhill cranes migrating through Arizona have been increasing due to agriculture. For these birds, migration appears to actually be a learned trait as opposed to innate behavior. If you stay tuned, you can also watch the migration of tundra swans over 4,000 miles to the arctic for the summer, which is pretty amazing.