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THE TRAVELS OF
BIRDS AS TRAVELERS
BIRDS are the greatest travelers in the world. Some other animals also make long journeys. The fur-bearing seals that pass the summer on the Pribilof Islands in Bering Sea go as far south as southern California in the winter. The caribou, or reindeer of the Barren Grounds which border the Arctic Ocean, travel southward in the fall to find food and shelter in the spruce and balsam forests of the interior of British America.
Shad and salmon leave the sea and swim often hundreds of miles up rivers to lay their eggs. Certain locusts, which are called “grasshoppers,” and some butterflies go long distances. But not one of these animals can compare with the bird as a traveler.
It is true that man makes longer journeys than birds do. But it is also true that he could not make them without help from other men. He might walk where there was land, but he would need days to go as far as a bird could go in an hour. And when he comes to the sea he requires a sailing vessel or steamer with charts and maps and compass to aid him in finding the way; while in the hold there must be food for the use of the crew and passengers during the voyage.
But the bird traveler asks help from no one. He has no use for locomotives, automobiles or steamships. He carries no chart and no compass, and he can go with ease to parts of the world which it took man many years to reach, and to some parts of the world which still are unknown to man.
Think of the explorers amid the ice and snow of the Arctic. With what difficulty they fight their way through the ice-floes. At times they find it impossible to advance. They are in frequent danger of being crushed by the grinding ice-fields, and while they struggle bravely onward, Gulls may go calmly floating by overhead without perhaps even making a stroke of their long, powerful wings.
Or in the Antarctic, Penguins slip through the leads, or openings in the ice, and, like feathered submarines, dive, when their path on the surface is closed, to travel even more swiftly under the water than on it.
There are mountaintops so high and so steep that man has never succeeded in climbing them. But the birds may use them as resting-places and soar about in the sky far above them.
So I think we may safely say that the bird is not only the greatest of aviators, but that he is also the greatest of travelers. Not even man can excel him.
Now to travel is one of the most interesting things we can do. We may see beautiful scenery, wonderful cities, and strange people. There is no end to the experiences which may befall the traveler or to the opportunities he may have to learn. But if we cannot go to foreign countries ourselves, sometimes the next best thing we can do is to read about the travels of others. So far as I know, there is no way by which we could go with the birds on their travels. Even a tiny Hummingbird could laugh at the efforts of the best aviator, if he should attempt to follow him in an aëroplane from Canada to Central America.
Of course the birds cannot write books about themselves. If, therefore, we cannot either go with them or read their own accounts of their long journeys, how shall we learn anything about these great bird travelers? We must ask a naturalist who studies birds.
In the dictionary we will find him defined under the name “ornithologist,” which means a person who studies and writes or talks about birds. It is a long name, but, like hippopotamus or rhinoceros, not so strange when you become familiar with it.
Then we shall discover that there are various kinds of bird students, or ornithologists. Some of them study the food of birds; others their nesting habits; others still their migrations. By “migration,” the ornithologist means “travels,” though migration more exactly describes the journeys of birds than the word travel. Migrations are more regular and are made with a more definite purpose; while travels may be made at any time and to any place. So what is really meant by travel, as I have been using the word, is migration.
For many years I have been studying the migrations of birds. I have gone to their summer homes in the north and their winter homes in the south. I have seen them go and seen them come. I have been on little islands in the seas at which they paused for food, and on vessels in the ocean when they stopped to rest. With a telescope I have watched them flying at night, and while at the top of a lighthouse I have had the birds, blinded by the bright rays from the lantern, fly against me as they tried to continue their journey through the night. Then, of course, I have studied what other ornithologists have written about this wonderful subject of bird migration. From what I have learned from them and from the birds themselves I propose now to act as the birds’ historian.
I shall try to tell
you how they prepare for the journey; how they find their way; when and where
they go, and how they get there. And I shall be but a poor historian if I do
not arouse in you so strong an admiration for these skillful voyagers of the
air that you will give them a hearty greeting when they come in the spring and
wish them good luck when they leave in the fall.
SUGGESTIONS FOR STUDY
Mention some of the bird travelers you have Seen. When and where were they seen? Where had they been and where were they going? Were they traveling alone or in company with other birds? If in company, were their companions of the same or of different species?
What do you know about the seals of the Pribilof Islands? Are they the kind of seals from which “seal-skin” fur is obtained? Where else besides the Pribilof Islands do seals of this kind live?
Give some facts in connection with the migration of salmon; of shad. Name rivers up which these fish migrate. When do shad reach the vicinity of New York City in the spring?
What butterfly is known to migrate? In what countries are migratory or traveling locusts found? Describe a locust invasion. Are locusts injurious to vegetation?
In what part of the world are Penguins found? Do they live alone or in communities? How do they progress on land? In water? How many branches of ornithology can you define? In what way are birds indispensable to man?