And a Cast of Thousands

An adventurer's guide to animal migrations—the greatest shows on earth

Jun 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Fowl play: sandhill cranes in the Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska    Photo: Kevin Schaffer

AT ANY GIVEN moment, in every corner of the globe, in the air, through the water, and across the land, animals are performing Herculean feats of migration. Every spring, millions of blackpoll warblers, each five inches long and weighing barely half an ounce, complete a 50-day, 6,800-mile journey across the Americas, flying from the Amazon to western Canada and Alaska. To achieve a similar level of metabolic exertion, a human would have to run more than 40 back-to-back marathons at a sprinter's pace. Or consider the 500,000 Magellanic penguins that swim 2,000 miles from as far north as Rio de Janeiro to a tiny patch of beach in central Argentina each September at speeds of up to six miles per hour. To match this, a human would need to swim faster then Ian Thorpe—for nearly two weeks straight. And then there are the more than one million wildebeests and the 300,000 zebras that travel 250 miles across Africa's Serengeti Plain twice each year. (Imagine the entire population of Houston getting up one day and thundering, en masse, to Dallas.)

Although these animal pageants go back millennia (the flight paths used by North America's sandhill cranes are more than nine million years old), other great migrations have been extinguished or are mustering smaller and smaller numbers. The huge herds of American buffalo are long gone. And the vast aggregations of salmon that once migrated by the millions up the Columbia River to Red Fish Lake, Idaho, dwindled to just a single fish in 1992 (thanks to conservation efforts, the numbers are now rebounding).
To help you witness one of these magnificent wildlife spectacles for yourself, we present eight of the most colorful and inspiring animal migrations the world has to offer. From bats to whales and wildebeests to butterflies, you've never seen animals move like this.