This piece originally ran in the Fall 2023 issue as “Happy Travels.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.
For many people, summer means travel season. But humans aren’t the only ones to take seasonal journeys: Birds migrate every fall and spring to find safe habitats with the resources they need to survive and raise chicks.
The Whimbrel, for example, is a long-beaked shorebird that may winter along the Gulf Coast, where they gobble up ghost shrimp and other crustaceans, then summer in the Arctic tundra, a perfect open space for nesting.
In this activity, you and your child can learn more about birds’ extraordinary journeys with the Bird Migration Explorer. This online tool reveals not only where birds go and when, but also some of the challenges they face along the way. After using the Explorer to follow a species’ migration, pretend you’re a bird and tell us about your trip.
Ready? Let’s go!
1. Visit the Bird Migration Explorer. You can click the “Take a tour” button on the homepage for a quick orientation, or you and your child can learn about some of this website’s features together as you follow the steps in this activity.
2. Click the button labelled “Bird Species.” If you already have a favorite feathered visitor, type its name in the search box and skip to step 3. To find a bird that migrates through your area, click “Species by Location” and put your zip code in the search box. Check or uncheck months to focus on birds that are in your area now or that fly through at other times.
3. Learn more about your chosen species. You can read a short introduction, listen to bird calls, and view maps related to this bird’s journeys (the information available for each species differs). As you explore, consider several questions with your child:
- When does the bird travel through your neighborhood? Load a Species Migration map and press play on the timeline at the bottom to see where these birds go throughout the year. Yellow or purple dots correspond to the travels of individual birds; tan circles reflect the number of these birds in that area.
- Where else does your bird travel? Click on a shaded hexagon in the Species Connections map. Each purple hexagon that appears represents a location where tagged birds have been spotted. Ask your child how the climate and ecosystem of these areas compare.
- How can you support migrating birds? Visit the Conservation Challenges map to learn about some difficulties your species faces on its travels. As you explore the details, brainstorm with your child what people can do to help.
4. Now it’s postcard time! Gather your art supplies and ask your child to imagine they are a member of the species you’ve selected and have just arrived at their destination. What would they tell other bird friends about their journey? Ask your child to think about the places they saw along the way or challenges they encountered.
5. Have your child draw a picture of their bird on one side of a blank 4-by-6-inch index card or sturdy paper and write their message on the other. Kids can use the below template as a guide or follow their own inspiration. Then send it to us! We’ll feature some of the postcards we receive on this page.
Are you a teacher? Find more resources here.