On this frosty morning in mid Missouri, the song of white-throated sparrows is especially intense. They sense a coming journey and, like other wintering songbirds, will depart for Canada in the coming days.
Their behavior is, of course, entirely instinctual. They have no knowledge of their destination and no conscious rationale for their migration. Traveling at night, they will be guided by star patterns and by the magnetic field of our planet. En route, they will not recognize cities or landscapes but will "know" when they reach their breeding grounds; there, they will be naturally equipped to sustain themselves and to raise their young. Come October, these birds will return to the same Midwestern neighborhoods but will have no conscious memory of past visits and no comprehension of the hot, humid summer that we endured in their absence.
We humans anticipate and plan for our travels and usually have a motivation for the journey. As a consequence, we must deal with schedules, anxiety and travel mishaps. But for birds, the master travellers on this planet, instinct and natural abilities eliminate such worries and complications. They depart for the unknown with no doubt in their souls.