Outdoors just for kids: Animals' summer trips are no vacation

2014-06-05T00:00:00Z Outdoors just for kids: Animals' summer trips are no vacation The Billings Gazette

Are you going on a summer vacation this year? Traveling can be fun, but as your parents will remind you — maybe over and over again — it’s also a lot of work. They have to plan the route they will drive, where you will camp and figure out how many meals to pack, buy the groceries and load the coolers.

Some animals also take long trips, but they aren’t vacations. Birds, zebras, caribou and even our own pronghorns and mule deer all move with the changing seasons. In our northern latitudes, animals often move to lower elevations in the fall to reach areas with warmer weather and less snow.

In Wyoming, mule deer will move from the mountains to the prairie, some traveling about 60 miles. Pronghorn antelope will walk about 120 miles — one of the longest migrations in North America — to reach their summer and winter homes in Wyoming.

A recent study found that several thousand zebras in Africa traveled about 150 miles one way as they sought water and more food. It is the longest documented migration of mammals in Africa.

The farthest migration of any mammal, though, is the trip taken by the Porcupine caribou herd. They travel almost 3,000 miles a year across the Yukon Territories and Alaska.

All of these may seem like a long way until you read about the Arctic least tern, a tiny 4-ounce bird that annually flies about 44,000 miles while migrating between Greenland and Antarctica. The birds can live 30 years so over their lifetime it’s been estimated they may fly 1.5 million miles — that’s equal to flying to the moon and back three times.

So when you’re getting restless in the car on your vacation, remember the Arctic least tern and be thankful you’re not flying all of that way.

— Brett French

Gazette Outdoors editor

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Brett French

Outdoors editor for the Billings Gazette.

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