Kids & Nature Connections: Migration Celebration!

Submitted on Fri, 03/24/2017 - 13:41

This article originally ran in The Wenatchee World in October 2017.

Change is in the air this time of year. School has started, the leaves are changing, and we’re hearing the familiar honk of Canada geese as they pass overhead.

But where do those geese come from, and where do they go? Kids may be surprised to learn that some of the geese they see flying above them came from the tundras of Alaska, and could be heading as far south as Southern California. Take a look at a map – it’s a pretty impressive journey!

Below, we’ll learn more about the amazing journeys animals are taking right now and explore some ways to learn more about them.

What is migration, anyway?

Migration just means moving from one place to another. Many kinds of animals migrate – even humans!

Has your family ever moved from one house or city to another? Maybe your family or a friend’s family moves with the seasons to follow the fruit harvest.

If so, you know that it can take a lot of energy to move from place to place. It’s the same with animals! It has to be really worth it to make the effort. Usually when humans move they are hoping to find something they can’t find in their previous home – like work, or better schools, or to be near family.

Animals are looking for something when they migrate too. Sometimes they are looking for warmth, or food, or a place to raise their young. Usually animals move because of a change in seasons. They often live in a different place in the summer than they do in the winter.

How do they know when to migrate? It depends. Some animals migrate because of a change in the weather, some because of shorter days, and some may move because they can’t find food. Some migrate because of a combination of these things.

How do they know where to go? Scientists aren’t quite sure what the complete answer to this question is yet, but we’re finding out more every day. Some animals use the sun and stars, some use wind patterns, and some use mountains, lakes, and rivers to tell them where to go. Some even use the magnetic field of the earth!

We have lots of examples of animals that migrate here. Read below to learn about some of these animals and their journeys.

Exploring migration with kids

Make a migration map! Print out a map of the world and then identify a few animals that make long journeys. Mark their journey on the map with a marker.

Watch for birds! Some birds you might see: Canada geese making their V-shaped flocks in the sky; hawks, falcons, eagles and turkey vultures flying through our mountains, heading to places with food that isn’t covered with ice or snow; and hummingbirds making their way south – sometimes to as far away as southern Mexico. Near your home starting later this fall, look out for juncos, which are little grey birds with black heads and white feathers that flash in their tails. Their migration is much shorter than many other birds. They spend their summers in the lush mountains and their winters in our less-snowy towns and foothills.

Our migratory mule deer also spend the winter in towns and foothills and summer in the mountains. There are two groups of mule deer. One group sticks around at lower elevations all year round and one migrates to the mountains in the summer. Later this winter, try looking for signs of our migratory mule deer, especially at the Land Trust’s Jacobson Preserve. You might see tracks, places where they’ve been nibbling on antelope bitterbrush and other plants, droppings, or even the deer themselves. Just try not to bother them – they need all the energy they can get to make it through winter.

Visit the salmon. Salmon make their way from the Pacific Ocean all the way to lay their eggs in the very streams where they began their lives – a journey that takes years and thousands of miles. In early October, you can see spawning salmon in the Entiat River at the Land Trust’s Stormy Creek Preserve. It’s also a great place to take kids. You can also see spawning salmon in the Wenatchee River in the Tumwater Canyon.