Winter weather always gets me down. The cold? The ice? The dreary days? No thanks! So I’ve bought myself a nice little house down in Florida. Time to embrace my new identity as a snowbird.
The idea of heading south for the winter isn’t exclusive to humans. Plenty of animals—geese, whales, monarch butterflies—embark on huge trips as the seasons change.
When I head south, I prefer to drive, encountering plenty of other cars traveling the same direction. We’re quite the herd! But we’ve got nothing on caribou, whose land migration is the longest of any mammal: as the crow flies, caribou trudge over 800 miles a year. And, populating vast swaths of northern North America and Eurasia, their herds can reach a quarter-million animals or more.
Unlike me, caribou don’t travel because they want to vacation in the Sunshine State. Some herds, such as those who live in Canada’s forests, don’t migrate. But others, especially in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, embark on long trips every year. In springtime they journey to their calving grounds. With few predators and emerging vegetation, a herd’s calving ground is an ideal place for caribou mothers to give birth. In summer, the herd remains on the tundra, where they form large groups, in part to find relief from biting flies.
Finally, in autumn, the caribou head south. While their wintertime habitat is still, well, wintry—think snow-covered coniferous forests—caribou are well adapted to survive, with thick coats and a diet of lichen.
It’s an epic migration each year. But me? I still prefer a long walk on the beach to a long trek in the snow.