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Flying Away Home: Migration 101

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Perhaps you’ve watched the endearing 90’s film Fly Away Home where a young girl raises an orphaned flock of geese and helps show them their migratory way by flying with them to their winter home. Based on real events, the film’s title is poignant – though the geese are “home” with their human parent, their natural instincts drive them to yearn for their other, seasonal home.

Where does this instinct in birds come from? Every year, billions of birds migrate through the United States on their way to seasonal destinations. While some travel epic distances, like the Red Knot’s 9,000 miles south to north, others travel a mere elevation distance along a mountainside. Birds’ migration distances vary from long-distance migrators to permanent residents who never venture on the migration journey at all.

Where does the migration instinct come from? How do young birds who’ve never made the trip know where to go? How do birds understand when to leave and what causes them to go and to return? The evolution of migration is a fascinating topic and there are two standing theories about how it came to be what it is today.

In their series “All About Birds,” The Cornell Lab has curated a wonderful beginner’s guide to migration that covers all of these questions and more to help you on your way to becoming a migration expert.

New Jersey & Migratory Birds

Surprisingly to some, New Jersey serves as a feeding ground and rest stop for numerous migratory birds along their journey. The American Golfinch, Red Knot, Indigo Bunting, Bald Eagle, and Piping Plover are just a few of the birds that make their migration paths through New Jersey. The Atlantic Migratory Flyway, a route beginning in Greenland and following the North American coast down to South America is a populous migratory route for birds as it has plenty of food and water resources for the journey.

If you’re interested in catching some of the many beautiful migratory bird types that pass through our state, New Jersey Audubon keeps a detailed list of migration patterns through New Jersey each year and has helpful information about which bird-watching sites to visit.

Julie Kucks is a freelance content writer for New Jersey Institute of Nature and Cedar Hill Prep. Her work has also been featured in Fine Living Lancaster. Julie's writing interests include sustainable living practices, permaculture, mental health, and the power of breathwork. She also enjoys piano tuning, singing and songwriting, playing mountain dulcimer, hiking, and carousing with her kittens, Nike & Lionne.



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