Finding Their Way

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They creep, they crawl, they scuttle, they gallop. They fly, hop, slither, and swim.

God gave animals lots of fun ways to get from one place to another. And it’s a good thing they can move so well, because some animals and birds have to take a trip two times a year—that’s called “migrating.”

God’s creatures migrate to find warmer weather and better food, and to find safe places to have their babies. But with no roads, no maps, and no direction signs, how do they know where they are going? The answers are amazing. . . .

Learn More About It

Here are three books that tell fascinating facts and stories about animal migration:

Flute’s Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry

They Swim the Seas: The Mystery of Animal Migration by Seymour Simon, illustrated by Elsa Warnick (Check your library for this book—it may be hard to find in bookstores)

The Journey: Stories of Migration by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Lambert Davis

Also check out the very cool 2002 nature film Winged Migration for a birds' eye view of several species on their annual migratory trips. It's available in DVD from video stores and libraries.

Stargazing

Some birds use the stars to help them migrate. How do we know? Because a scientist named Stephen Emlen did experiments in the 1960s to find out. Emlen kept some young< indigo buntings from seeing the whole night sky when they were growing up. When it came time for them to migrate, he saw they could not find the right direction to travel. That told Emlen that indigo buntings learn the pattern of the stars and use it like a map. It also tells us that God gave indigo buntings some pretty incredible talents.

Magnetic Personalities

Did you know that the Earth sends out magnetic signals? People can’t feel them, but some animals and birds can. It’s like they have a built-in compass in their brains. Baby loggerhead turtles are experts at this. As soon as the baby turtles hatch, they leave their nest on the beach and head into the ocean. Their brains “read” the magnetic fields in the water, and then they know exactly which way to go. They can migrate thousands of miles away from where they were born. Do you think you could have done that when YOU were a baby?

Smells Like Home

Salmon can’t stand to be away from home for too long. After they hatch from their eggs and grow to be “fingerlings,” they leave their home stream and swim out to the ocean to live. But after a few years, the now-adult salmon return to the exact same stream where they were hatched so they can reproduce. How do they know which stream is theirs? Scientists don’t know for sure, but they think the salmon use their amazing sense of smell. The fish can tell the difference between the right stream and the wrong stream just by its scent. What if you had to find your way home just by using your nose?

When Migration Goes Wrong

Imagine you’re a migrating animal. Migration is not a vacation for you—it’s a fight for your life. You have to do it to survive. Will you make it to your destination? Yes, but only if you can avoid all the dangers along the way, and there are many:

  • The weather might turn really bad.
  • You might get sick.
  • You might not find enough food because humans have removed the plants you need.
  • Predators might try to eat you.
  • Hunters might shoot at you.
  • Things like oil slicks, pollution, and construction may destroy your habitat. (Wouldn’t it be terrible if you migrated hundreds of miles just to find that your home was gone when you arrived?)
Champion Migrator

Many birds fly south for the winter. But there is one bird that’s a champion migrator—the arctic tern . This small bird flies about 20,000 miles (about 32,000 kilometers) from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic and back again every year. The trip takes about three months each way. During that time the arctic tern spends almost all its time flying or diving for food. Can you imagine? That’s like you running for three months without stopping, except to grab a snack. Whew!

About the Author

Sandy Swartzentruber serves as the resource coordinator for Faith Formation Ministries and is a member of Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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