A Perilous Journey
A Perilous Journey
For sheer splendor, few natural wonders can outperform the seasonal migration of birds across the planet. Each year about 100 billion birds traverse the globe in search of greener pastures during the winter and return to their mating grounds when temperatures warm. Record-holders like the Arctic Tern travel thousands of miles to reach their destination. But even the less athletic members of the avian family feel the urge. As winter approaches, groups of California mountain quail hobble along by foot 15 miles down to the safety of the valleys below, and make their way steadily back up the mountain slope come spring. On a planet dominated by human artifacts and controlled environments, birds remind us of the ancient things—cycles of nature stretching back well before the first humans walked the landscape. This is equally true of their morning song. If you stood at the North Pole with a microphone powerful enough to detect it, you would hear an enormous wave of music slowly circling the earth each day, as a chorus of millions of birds awaken, their song tracking the leading edge of sunlight moving westward around the earth’s perimeter. When we think of the study of the earth’s natural wonders, what comes to mind are images from the natural sciences—lab coats and test tubes, gloves and galoshes, fish nets and soil samples. And when we wish to learn more about our environment, we consult these same sources of expertise. Take birding guides, for example. If you visit the southeastern United States in the spring, you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of an adorable little blue bird called the cerulean warbler, literally the “sky blue singer.” Consulting a trusted birding guide such as Peterson’s, you will learn certain things. The cerulean is 4½ inches in length. It has a thick pointed beak suited to its preferred diet of insects. It breeds in North America, where it builds cup-shaped nests high in the trees to hatch its chicks.
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