Birds really do migrate by airplane … sometimes

Picture by Kim Smith,

Last week, in the midst of this record-breaking cold snap (in a region that thought it was used to cold snaps), my husband looked out the winter and exclaimed that Robby Robin had forgotten to go south with his family again. There was a forlorn robin drinking what had to be exceedingly cold water in our snow- and ice-lined stream. When we see robins or other birds staying longer than can be good for them (one year, a duck hung around until it was too late), we think of my “literary creation”, Robby Robin, and what I had thought was a whimsical and completely impossible story about Robby trying to spend the winter in the north with his winter-loving friends, the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals and crows.

Robby Robin stays with his friends while his parents head south

Black-crowned night-heron in Ottawa; should be in Mexico this time of year

I thought the scenario was impossible, that is, until this morning when I read a newspaper article by Tom Spears about what happens to birds in the Ottawa area that end up trying to winter over in the world’s coldest winter capital when they should know better. This might be because, like Robby, they didn’t migrate when their parents told them to, or it might be by mistake rather than design. He explains that birds occasionally fly in the wrong direction when migrating and end up going north, east, or west instead of to their intended southerly destination. Neither is good. When birds are found in distress they can be taken to a local wildlife center, where they are provided with the care they need to recover. Often, sadly, they don’t recover. However, get this, occasionally they do and are flown back to where they belong. By plane. Last January, a Bullock’s oriole was rescued in the Ottawa region, and lived to be flown home to British Columbia on an airplane. The only question I have is: How do they find their parents?!

Robby’s friends put him on the plane to Florida, where his Mama awaits

Robby’s Mama is overjoyed to see Robby again!

Robby was clearly a bird ahead of his time. You can read his story at my blog, No More Winters for Robby. Print it and his other stories out to read to your kids or grandkids if you like. Or send me an email and I’ll send you a pdf file to print out for a nicer reading experience.  Meanwhile, stay warm!

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2 Responses to Birds really do migrate by airplane … sometimes

  1. Ben Aqiba says:

    Hi Jane,

    nature is magical.I was always fascinated by the fact that the birds are moving in the south, using Earth’s magnetic field as a landmark. Magic is real. Thank you


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Magical is a great word to use in this instance, Ben. I agree completely. Some birds fly literally thousands of kms to arrive at their nesting sites and then back to their wintering sites. We know so little about how they do this. Why do we think we’re so smart?! 😉


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