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Migration: Innate or Learned

How do these birds know where to go?

Have you ever wondered how some migrating birds return to the same location, year after year? Do they learn from their parents, or do they just know how to migrate? Some birds (like this Bar-tailed Godwit) have an innate homing ability, while others follow their parents. The Bar-tailed Godwit begins life in northern Alaska. The parents are long gone when the young migrate, yet they all end up 6,800 miles away in New Zealand. Learn more about this bird's amazing migration at Alaska Science Forum.

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Transcript: 
BirdNote®
Migration: Innate or Learned?

Written by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote!
[Sound of flock of Canada Geese in flight]
 Two sure signs of fall are wintering waterfowl appearing on lakes, and shorebirds settling into saltwater marshes.
[Sound of flock of Dunlin in flight]
How do migrating birds manage to return to the same location year after year? Do they learn from their parents, or do they just know how to migrate? The answer is: both!
After nesting in the far north, many shorebird parents leave their young and migrate south without them. A few weeks later, when the young are more mature, they must take flight on their own. Still, they manage to find their parents on the wintering grounds. [Editor's note: The young do not actually find their parents but do spend the winter in New Zealand.]
These birds have the innate ability to know where to go.
One amazing example is the Bar-tailed Godwit [Sound of Bar-tailed Godwit], a bird that begins life in northern Alaska. The parents are long gone when the young begin migrating, yet they link up with their parents 6,800 miles away in New Zealand. [Editor's note: The young do not actually link up with their parents but do spend the winter in New Zealand.]
The young of other bird species, such as geese, need to be shown the way. The parents wait until the young are ready to migrate, then adults and young travel together, following familiar landmarks to their winter homes.
Both ways of migrating are remarkable. And both work just fine.
[Call of Bar-tailed Godwit]
To see a photo of the amazing Bar-tailed Godwit, come to our website, BirdNote.org. I’m Mary McCann.
###
Bird calls provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Canada Geese flocks in flight recorded by G.B. Reynard and AL Priori ; Dunlin flock in flight recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Bar-tailed Godwit calls recorded by .
Ambient track provided by Kessler Productions.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2011 Tune In to Nature.org   September 2011   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#092705BTGOKPLU      migration-03b    migration-03b-2009-09-28-MM

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