with Neotropical Migratory Birds

Preparing for the Trip

When you go on a car trip, lots of preparation usually takes place. How is a vacation different from a migration? Human travel and bird migration offer fascinating similarities and differences. Birds travel to and from the neotropics with built-in survival kits. In this lesson, you'll explore the parallels between things humans need for travel and the counterparts needed by birds to survive their journeys.

Important Note to Teachers:
The fun and learning value of this activity comes from the students discovering these analogies on their own. Therefore, do not give them the chart below, but instead let them create their own chart over time. As students learn more about migration, see if they can draw connections back to this lesson.


A. Ask students to think about car trips they've taken. What made a trip fun, comfortable, and safe? What caused problems? Invite stories that illustrate these points. Next, ask questions that spark comparisons between bird migration and human travel, such as:

  • How we each find our way?
  • How we find food in an unfamiliar area?
  • What do we use for fuel?
  • What things we need to bring? (Have you ever traveled without a suitcase?)
  • Do you need to get in shape before you go?
  • Are people or birds able to anticipate conditions ahead? How?
  • Have your parents ever let you travel alone? Why or why not?
  • What purposes are behind bird trips and human trips?

B. Record the analogies on a flip chart. Try and keep it available to students over a period of time (even all year) so they can add to it.

Here is an example of a chart your class might develop:
Human Travel Bird Migration
Printed Map Mental Map
Compass Magnetite in brain
Road signs Star map
Learned route... Instinct guides way
Gasoline fuel Fatty tissue fuel
Suitcases full Go without packing
Parents lead the way Young travel alone
Rest areas Staging/ Stopover sites
Passport required Crosses borders freely
Weather reports Internal barometer
Food available 24 hours .... Must find or starve
Clocks, digital watches Internal clock
Travel in almost any weather Waits for safe conditions
Bring money Never heard of it!

Extensions: Talk About Incredible Journeys!

1. There are many stories about dogs or cats finding their way over long distances to return home. Share the stories you may have heard. What aspects of these animals' behavior surprises you the most?

2. As a class, create a story about some kids traveling 3,000 miles to a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Brainstorm some needs they would have and how they might meet those needs. How resourceful would they need to be to survive?

3. What are some advantages that birds have that humans might envy? If birds could think it through, what are some human advantages that birds might envy?