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Life Lessons from Migratory Birds

Adopt the avian toolkit to overcome crises

Photo by Aryan Singh on Unsplash

During winter, birds fly thousands of miles across continents to find temporary homes. Bird migration is one of Nature’s marvels. The sight of small birds flying non-stop for hundreds of miles every day is an amazing spectacle that brings instant joy in our minds.

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In the picture above we have the Arctic tern which flies about 70,900 kilometers (44,100 miles) on average during the long journey from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year.

Bird migration is a visible testimony to Nature’s cyclical and self-balancing patterns. The human-centric vision is blind to Nature’s wonders. Hubris defines an anthropocentric worldview. Humans think they are the so-called chosen species that will rule the universe. The willful blindness to human limitations has made us treat Nature as a resource to exploit instead of a living organism that is a model for sustainable living.

We can learn many life lessons if If we pause a moment and look around Nature. What do migratory birds teach us about life?

Embrace uncertainty

Nothing terrifies humans than uncertainty. We struggle to navigate life’s uncertainties. Little do we realize that it is impossible to plan for every eventuality in life.

Birds face an existential crisis in winter. The harsh climate poses a serious threat to their lives. Food becomes scarce. Birds instinctually accept reality. They don’t depend on experts to tell them what to do to overcome a crisis. They take a leap of faith and fly to distant pastures to find salubrious homes.

Our mental limits are self-imposed

Faulty self-perceptions prevent humans from realizing their potential. Conditioned by childhood experiences and reinforced by later life events, each of us has a mental image of what we can achieve.

Humans are perennial underachievers. Fear of failure prevents us from trying our best when we face challenging moments in life. The inadequacy of our self-images becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nobody can imagine that birds will fly thousands of miles. Birds do not feel constrained by fears of incapability. They don’t even think of failure. They just take off en masse. Not trying to break free of their natural limits is not an option for them as Nature punishes laziness and inaction mercilessly.

Harness one’s strengths to face challenges

Each one of us is unique in our abilities and dispositions. We have our own strengths and weaknesses. When we face moments of crisis, we cannot rely on any magic formula to pull us out of trouble. Each of us has to tap into their own inner reservoirs of skills, abilities, and strengths and adopt their own strategies to ride out the crises.

Migratory birds have smaller brains than resident birds. This feature helps them conserve energy while flying interminable distances. According to ornithologists, migratory birds take hundreds of naps as they fly. They also practise unilateral eye closure in which one eye closes, permitting half of the brain to sleep.

Rotate leadership

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Many Organizations have domineering leaders who hate to share their powers with others. The top-down leadership style often blocks communications within the hierarchy. The information does not flow seamlessly within the organizations and teams function as silos. The organization cannot compete in the market when the leader takes important decisions without examining all the relevant information.

Most migratory birds adopt the ‘V’ formation while flying long distances. This helps aerodynamic efficiency. Also, the birds switch the lead bird position so that the leader does not suffer exhaustion. This is a classic example of shared leadership.

Adapt or perish

Adaptability is the twenty-first century’s buzzword. Life is changing faster than ever before. Failure to adapt is the root cause of human failures.

The migratory birds adapt by flying to safe sanctuaries abroad rather than perish in their winter homes.

While flying, the migratory birds synergize their wing-flapping for optimal efficiency.

As each bird flaps its wings, the trail of upwash left by its wingtips also moves up and down. The birds behind can somehow sense this and adjust their own flapping to keep their own wings within this moving zone of free lift. “They trace the same path that the bird in front traced through the air.” (National Geographic )

Collective spirit can help overcome crises

Humanity has been struggling to find solutions to its common problems like climate change, inequality, poverty, unsustainable development, and environmental degradation. Humankind is ideologically and politically divided. International bodies are impotent. The Big Powers are selfish and pursue their own national interests.

Birds flock together and stay together to undertake the long and hazardous journey to other continents. No bird is foolish enough to imagine that it can fly solo to reach distant lands. They know that their security and safety lie in numbers. They fly in particular formations to tap into their navigating instincts.


Virologists had warned of a pandemic as countries failed to mobilize international cooperation on biosafety and wildlife protection. Their prediction has come true. A pandemic has devastated humanity because of one nation’s reckless tampering with wildlife systems. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. Economies have crumbled everywhere. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods.

Instead of mounting a joint effort to find a cure and a vaccine for COVID-19, nations are conducting their own medical research, hoping to save their own citizens first rather than helping humanity. If there is a Resilience Quotient (RQ)) humanity will score low as compared to our avian friends.

After spending a few months in foreign lands, the birds return to their original habitats. Bird migration is a remarkable example of how resilience can help overcome enormous challenges in life.

The humble migratory birds can teach us valuable lessons about how to adapt to changing environments and how to overcome challenges through collaboration. Learning from Nature is sometimes more effective than relying solely on human knowledge.

Thanks for reading.

Life Lessons from Migratory Birds was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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