Jimmy Ball, age 14, of Claremore, Oklahoma, for his question:
How far south do birds migrate?
There are hundreds of different migrating birds and each species has its own ideas about which direction and how far to fly to spend the winter. Many fly north in summer to nest in our territory. Others nest on the northern tundra and fly south to enjoy our warmer winter climate.
The owl and the mourning dove and dozens of other birds are permanent residents in our territory, but most birds prefer to avoid our changing summer and winter climates. Come fall, they fly south to enjoy warmer climates while we are enduring the winter's cold. Countless millions of birAs migrate short distances and long distances between their summer and winter residences. Coots and killdeer migrate a few hundred miles between our central and northern states and the mild regions along the Gulf Coast or the California shoreline. Wrens and phoebes, loons and bitters, snipes, and countless song sparrows also are short distance migrators between the northern and southern regions of our continent.
The heron and grebe, the crow and the kingfisher, the robin and many others vary this pattern. Some members fly farther north for the summer while others nest in the southern states. In winter, California and the Gulf States are crowded with assort¬ed birds that have migrated short distances from the north. Many shore birds that nest on the tundra during the Arctic summer fly several hundreds of miles south to winter in Canada and the New England States.
But to the champion migrators, a few hundred miles is no trip at all. The hand¬some little bobolink nests in our northern states and migrates to winter on the grassy pampas way down south in Argentina. To and fro, he migrates over a distance of more than 6,000 miles. The leggy white stork spends the summer nesting on rooftops in Europe and parts of Asia. In winter he takes off for South Africa. He dislikes crossing water, so he takes a route across either Gibraltar or the Red Sea to avoid the Mediterranean. The one way trip is between 5,000 and 6,000 miles long. The summer nesting grounds of the pectoral sandpiper are on the Arctic tundra. Come fall, he starts forth on a flight of at least 8,000 miles to the southern shores of South America. In spring he makes the return trip.
The champion long distance bird, so far as we know, is the Arctic tern. He is a smallish white bird with a forked tail and a neat black cap on his head. The champ nests in the Arctic tundra. Come spring, he takes off with flocks of his relatives on a migration flight of at least 10,000 miles. Some take a route along the eastern Pacific and some go by way of the eastern Atlantic. They arrive in time to spend Thanksgiving near Antarctica. After a short rest they start on the 10,000 mile flight back to the Arctic.
The woodcock and several other solitary characters prefer to make their migration flights alone, but most species migrate in flocks. Across North America there are four main flyways, one to the east and one to the west and two down the center of the continent.