If it appears to you that the days have been flying by lately, it could just be an illusion. Especially if you’re exhausted from celebrating World Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday of May, a time of year already crowded with such fun times as the always crazy No Socks Day and the quirkily charming National Hamster day.
This is because there is another World Migratory Bird Day fast approaching on the second Saturday of October, when we will have another, hopefully calmer, chance to commemorate the achievements of these remarkable birds. The only serious competition then is World Egg Day, but this is easily dismissed as there would be no eggs to celebrate if it weren’t for birds. At least not the kind worthy of our attention. You may argue that chickens aren’t migratory birds. I would suggest that we let them out of their cages and let them have the last word on that.
Forty percent of the world’s birds migrate, so clearly this is not some passing fad. These birds were born into the life of a migrant, with all the baggage that comes with it. At certain times every year, whether they like it or not, hormonal changes cause most to enter a state called hyperphagia. This is not a state for the faint hearted, and if you should ever find yourself approaching it, look for detour signs. This state triggers a feeding frenzy to make pigs unworthy of the name, as well as restless flying and flock gathering behaviors. And not just the teenagers. Many birds, like the blackpoll warbler for instance, gain twice their weight in a few short weeks. It is enough to make one wonder if body shaming by non-migratory birds is really behind this frantic urge to hit the open skies.
Birds that don’t migrate are called sedentary birds, and are rightly ridiculed for their provincial attitudes and up-tight natures. It could be the reason for there being no World Sedentary Bird Day. They are simply uninteresting birds, and the less said about them the better. Not one of them can compare to the daredevil feats of the Ruppel’s griffon vulture, the highest flyer on record. It was unfortunate that to get into the record books one had to get sucked into the engine of a plane flying at 37,000 feet, but maybe it thought no one would believe it otherwise. The pilot was astounded, but the rest of the Ruppel’s griffon vulture community reacted predictably by yawning and sticking their heads back into the carcasses of dead animals.
The bar-tailed godwit flies 7000 miles in eight days, without stopping. It tries to lord that performance over the other birds when it finally lands, but it’s a bar-tailed godwit, so no one pays it any attention. The arctic tern, whose yearly trips from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back put 49,700 miles on its odometer, puts the bar-tailed godwit to shame. Added up over its average lifespan of 30 years, that’s 1.5 million miles, all so it can enjoy two summers per year. Still, the summers are in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Someone ought to tell them that they fly right over the likes of Rio and Hawaii. And in case you were wondering, experts remain undecided about whether its distant relative the wandering albatross actually migrates or merely pretends to.
The great snipe is the fastest migrating bird, flying 4,700 miles at 60 mph. It is listed as near threatened. Just imagine how fast it could fly if it was truly threatened. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the smallest migrating bird, flying 900 miles over the Caribbean Sea in 20 hours. It is not threatened, but like all hummingbirds, tends to act like it is because of its size.
The short-tailed shearwater, aka the Tasmanian mutton bird, is a species known locally as flying sheep by the Australians who commercially harvest them for their feathers, flesh, and oil. Still other names for them are yolla and moon bird. It is one thing to prey on defenseless nesting birds, but to call them names on top of it is unforgivable. It is probably the reason why their migratory journey takes them so far from home – to remote Kamchatka in the Russian far east, then to the Aleutian Islands, then around the whole Pacific Ocean. Not being one of our smarter birds, it mistakes so much plastic garbage for food on its journey that it dies in great numbers. Unless it prefers to die this way rather than at the hands of the insensitive Australians.
So the next time you use that awful avian insult and say that something is “for the birds”, remember that there are two World Migratory Bird Days. What other person, animal, or object can claim such a tribute?