Songbird Journeys Four Seasons In the Lives of Migratory Birds

Miyoko Chu

Walker Books




320 Pages


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Until recently, little was known about the lives of songbirds during their travels from autumn until spring. Now scientists have documented mass migrations over the Gulf of Mexico, identified the voices of migrants in the night sky, and showed how songbirds navigate using stars, polarized light, and magnetic fields. Miyoko Chu explores the intricacies underlying the ebb and flow of migration, the cycle of seasons, and the interconnectedness between distant places. Songbird Journeys pays homage to the wonder and beauty of songbirds while revealing the lives of migratory birds and the scientific quest to answer questions about where songbirds go, how they get there, and what they do in the far-flung places they inhabit throughout the year.


Praise for Songbird Journeys

"Songbird Journeys pulls together in one readable book much of the latest research on the fascinating lives of the songbirds. Anyone who has been impressed or inspired by these tiny feathered jewels will be more so after reading this book."—David Allen Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Birds

"Simply yet crisply written, Chu's work summarizes much of what has recently been learned about the multiple lives of songbirds. As they move from continent to continent with the seasons, the annual flight of tens of millions of these small, determined pilgrims may be the most gripping spectacle in all of nature, though few humans have seen it . . . Like John McPhee in his travels with geologists, Chu turns to the ornithological detectives to piece together the story, [and] . . . Chu's researchers have truly great tales to tell."—Alan Tennant, The Washington Post

"The most enjoyable blend of birding lore and ornithological knowledge I have read in 30 years of bird-watching . . . readers of Songbird Journeys can savor more avian pleasure than what's found on an entire shelf of standard birding books."—James F. McCarty, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Everyone interested in birds, and even people who know little about them, will enjoy Songbird Journeys because it allows you to experience birds. It is sprinkled with sparkling anecdotes that give visceral contact and meaning to the biology of one of the planet's most epic marvels—migration, much of which has been unraveled only in the last half century."—Bernd Heinrich, author of The Geese of Beaver Bog

"By mixing crisp writing with patient explanation, Miyoko Chu has produced something rare—a book that offers something for both expert ornithologists and backyard bird lovers. Read Songbird Journeys and learn about the miracle of bird migration."—Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year

"In Songbird Journeys, Miyoko Chu captures both the sweep and the drama of bird migration, whether through the raw thrill of an airborne biologist following thrushes into the jaws of violent thunderstorms, or the patience of a scientist unraveling the winter life of a warbler in the tropics. And along with such compelling stories, Chu interleaves suggestions for how to enjoy the migration firsthand—where to go, what to look for, even how to use weather radar to watch for clouds of migrant birds, or how to join a research project. Songbird Journeys is that rare book that mingles passion, beauty, and science into a surprising, fascinating whole."—Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind

"Songbird Journeys is one of the best bird books ever, filled with solid and current scientific information while beautifully expressing what it is about birds that touches our minds and hearts. A satisfying read on every level."—Laura Erickson, author of 101 Ways to Help Birds

"The wonder of bird migration has puzzled humans for centuries. Literally millions of birds all over the world make seasonal movements to and from their breeding grounds, some traveling a short distance while others fly thousands of miles. Our most familiar birds are the songbirds, whom we know well while they visit during the breeding season. But what is known about their lives during the majority of the year, when they are either traveling or on their wintering grounds? Chu, an ornithologist and science writer for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has written an impressive introduction to the study of birds on the move. Following the birds through the four seasons, she begins with spring as birds leave the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula for a nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. Summer finds birds busily nesting and feeding young on the abundant food resources that are the ultimate reason for their migration. In autumn the reverse of the spring migration occurs, albeit more protracted as individual species finish breeding and go. In winter the birds have reinserted themselves into their off-season habitat, where they interact with an entirely different group of species from their summer neighbors. Chu examines the science of studying migration and peppers the text with anecdotes from field researchers. Each seasonal section ends with a list of hot spots for observing the birds in that phase of the cycle."—Booklist (starred review)

"Chu, an ornithologist, editor, and writer at Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology, writes engagingly of the epic and amazing seasonal migrations of American songbirds. Her lucid interpretation of related scientific research abounds with astonishing facts: for example, during their nonstop, 36-hour flight over the ocean, blackpoll warblers burn energy with an efficiency at the equivalent of 720,000 miles to the gallon. In addition to descriptions of the birds' migrations, habits, and life histories for each season, there are details on hotspots for observing the birds, including web sites, addresses, when to go, and special activities. Helpful appendixes tell how to participate in various related citizen-science projects and include recommended sources (print and electronic), more on additional hotspots, and a description of the impressive scope and direction of the Cornell Laboratory. An excellent overview of a compelling subject; highly recommended."—Library Journal

"Each spring, millions of orioles, tanagers, thrushes, warblers and other songbirds travel thousands of miles from the tropics to their summer breeding grounds as far north as the boreal forests of Canada and in the fall return to their southern wintering grounds. Navigating by the stars, magnetic fields and polarized light patterns invisible to humans, the birds make their amazing journeys at night, flying in huge flocks that most of us never see. In this captivating debut, Chu, an ornithologist at Cornell, conveys the wonder of these migrations, following the birds through all four seasons and chronicling the efforts of scientists to track them with technology and their own ingenuity—trekking to distant locales, some even following, in cars and airplanes, individual birds outfitted with transmitters. Their heroic efforts are important, Chu points out, for only by understanding where the birds go can we learn how to preserve their habitats. To engage the general public in these efforts, she includes information on the best places to observe migrating birds and provides lists of citizen-science projects and resources for amateurs birders who want to contribute to the growing base of knowledge about bird migration."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Miyoko Chu

  • Miyoko Chu is an ornithologist and science writer at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. She lives in Ithaca, New York.