The Facts of Life – A Lesson in the Birds and the Butterflies

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Warning: You may get butterflies in your stomach while reading this!

On a flight from California to New Mexico last week I read an article in Southwest Magazine about the monarch butterflies. The article explained that last winter, monarch butterflies covered 9.9 acres of forest in central Mexico, more than three times the previous year.

This is great news for monarch conservation efforts. And, although the monarch population has declined significantly in recent years, efforts suggest the monarchs’ reign will stretch to 14.8 acres by 2020. And who doesn’t LOVE butterflies?

This is also great news for birds! Why? Because one food source for birds is… you guessed it, BUTTERFLIES!

Did you know? Many people believe birds won’t eat monarch butterflies. That’s because monarchs taste bad to many birds as a result of the caterpillars having eaten milkweed. Once a bird tastes a monarch, they don’t want to try another one. (Talk about a natural deterrent!) However, many birds will still eat them. In fact, according to the Monarch Program (California Monarch Studies, Inc.):

  • Birds not affected by the toxic cardiac glycosides in milkweed plants, like the California Towhee, will consume large amounts of monarch larvae.
  • Birds with digestive tracks tolerant of the high levels of the milkweed poisons, including the Cassin’s Kingbird, Rufous-Sided Towhee, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees and Scrub Jays, will consume healthy amounts of adult monarch butterflies.
  • Two bird species prey extensively on monarchs, the Black-Backed Oriole and Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a fascinating phenomenon because the monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, just like birds do. Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter and may fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home! This is really remarkable.

Personally, I hope the monarch conservation efforts continue to be successful. Not just because monarchs are so important to our environment, but also because they help feed some of my favorite backyard birds!

I know.  Such is the circle of life.


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2 thoughts on “The Facts of Life – A Lesson in the Birds and the Butterflies

  1. Last year I planted milkweed and raised at least nine caterpillars into adults I released in my yard. It was awesome & I feel it was just such a little part I could do to help so I will keep doing my little part!

  2. Kristen Clark says:

    Nice, Sue! Keep up the great work, and thanks for sharing!

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