We have been watching our fields for the amazing monarch butterflies as they return on their journey North to the United States and Canada. The monarch has been a marvel of nature for centuries – noted as much for its spectacular beauty as its impressive migration patterns between North and South America. Scientists estimate that some monarchs travel as much as 2,000 miles, returning each year to their warmer resting spots in the South. East Coast monarchs winter in Mexico, while West Coast flocks – appropriately called “kaleidoscopes” – head to Southern California.
In recent years, though, there has been a recognizable decline in population due to pesticides, loss of habitat, and reduction in milkweed fields – especially in the West. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a survey to determine if the monarch should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, the Monarch Joint Venture is coordinating the efforts of public and private organizations to generate awareness of these problems and protect the monarch migration. As a result, several different programs combine the forces of citizen observers and social media to monitor and track the migration like never before.
The Monarch Joint Venture features a Citizen Science Opportunities page where individuals can participate in these studies. You can choose from Journey North where folks simply email sightings they have – to the more intense Monarch Watch that involves tagging, recapturing and documenting individual butterflies. Each site features migration maps where you can see the reports of sightings in your area. If you want to learn more about preserving monarch habitats, you can download the Xerces Society Milkweed Guide, which explains the importance of planting and maintaining milkweed fields which provide food sites for their migration. We have planted a mixture of native flowers and shrubs just to attract butterflies.
So, whether you actively take part in the migration monitoring, plant a butterfly garden, or simply sit back and enjoy the sights, Spring is the time to be watching for those beautiful monarchs.