Songbirds Fly Under Night-time Skies--Do Monarchs?
by Elizabeth Howard

May 6, 2004
Last night, a major influx of songbirds occurred where I live. When I woke up this morning, there they were! High in a tree outside my window in Vermont — fresh from Central America — a brilliant orange oriole suddenly sang his song. From the meadow below came the exuberant bubbling of bobolinks — a far cry from the South American grassland where they spent the winter.


Photo: Chan Robbins

Make a Star Compass!

Many bird species migrate at night, orioles and bobolinks among them. Why do they travel in the dark? Let’s think this through . . .

An "adaptation" is a physical or behavioral feature that evolved in response to an organism's environment due to pressures for survival.

Remember, migration is a behavioral adaptation. Let’s look at the songbird’s environment. How does the behavior of migrating at night help songbirds to survive?

  • Stars: The stars help songbirds navigate.
  • Wind: The winds die down at night, so flight is smoother.
  • Predators: The oriole’s predator, the hawk, can't fly at night so traveling through unfamiliar territory is safer at night.
  • Food: Songbirds can fuel up during the day, when they can see, to prepare for night-time flights.
  • Temperature: It's cooler at night, so exercising birds don't overheat as easily.

Journaling Question
Do Monarchs Migrate by Night or by Day?
What about monarch butterflies? Do they travel at night too? Think about the monarch’s environment. Think about what you’ve learned about monarch migration. Consider your own experiences with butterflies. Then answer this question:
  • Do you think monarch butterflies migrate during the night, the day, or both night and day? Why?
  • After thinking this through, see monarch butterfly expert Dr. Bill Calvert's response.

National Science Education Standards

  • An organism's behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment.
  • Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.

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