Amazing Monarch Migration Phenomenon

Monarch Butterfly © 2010 Michael O’Brien

On September 18th there was an estimated half million Monarch butterflies in Cape May, NJ, and sadly, I was not there to see it. But, I do have friends in Cape May who shared their story (and photos) of the big day with me.

The team of researchers from the Monarch Monitoring Project had been noticing extremely high numbers of Monarchs all day, and they had tagged many of these butterflies as part of their ongoing project which studies the migration path of the Monarchs on their journey to the Trans Volcanic Mountains  in Michoacan, to the west of Mexico City.

Monarch Butterfly Roost © 2010 Michael O’Brien

By early evening large roosts were beginning to form as the Monarchs settled in for the night, covering evergreen Cedar and Holly trees, then moving on to Black Cherries and even the bare branches of American Poplars.

Crowds of people gathered along the streets of Cape May Point to witness this phenomenon. Every tree along Stites Avenue was covered in Monarchs, their Black and Orange Wings fluttering in constant motion as they jockeyed for position on the branches.

Monarchs in Flight © 2010 Michael O’Brien

But the real spectacle was to occur the next morning as the sun rose and warmed those wings, and the Monarchs began to stir and prepare to continue their southward journey across the Delaware Bay.

Monarchs take flight © 2010 Michael O’Brien

As they lifted off en masse, the air was filled with clouds of countless Monarch butterflies taking wing. What a breathtaking sight that must have been!

It’s interesting to note that the return of the Monarchs to their winter home in Mexico coincides with the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, and the local people believe that the Monarchs are the returning souls of their loved ones who have died.

Monarch Butterflies soar over the dunes of Cape May © 2010 Michael O’Brien

Monarchs are threatened in the US and Canada by pesticide use and genetically modified corn crops which are lethal to them. Their wintering roosts are also under pressure as illegal logging in the Monarch sanctuaries thins out the trees which provide shelter from the elements and a buffer from temperature extremes.

Your wildlife garden plays a critical role in the continuance of this amazing Monarch migratory phenomenon. You can create a Monarch Way Station to help them on both their northward journey in the spring and their south-bound journey in the fall.

Wind-tossed Monarch Butterfly © 2010 Michael O’Brien

Monarchs need Milkweed, and their are many native species from which to choose. Talk to your local native plant society or your native plant nursery to find out which are the best species for your area.

The adult butterflies need nectar, so plan for a continuing bloom from early spring through late fall.

And, think about supporting the Monarch Monitaring Project by adopting a Monarch butterfly. You’ll be notified when your Monarch’s tag is read along it’s migratory route and you’ll be able to follow its progress online. This is a wonderful program and a great gift idea for your kids. Thank you for your donation to them!

On a happy note, I was blessed to be in Cape May over this past weekend, and the Monarch migration was still spectacular!

Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

© 2010 – 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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    • says

      A) Any time you want a tour of the best bird/butterfly/nature spots in Cape May, let me know. I’d happily be your guide
      B) I’ve never birded in Tennessee and someday I’d love to see the natural beauty there like you show on your blog.
      Carole recently posted..The Monarch Monitoring Project

  1. says

    I’m gonna jump in and add my two cents via an article I published in a regional newspaper this summer: If you want to know what kinds of plants the monarchs have really preferred the last few years here in Nebraska please link over. And pesticides are only the surface issue, literally–those genetically modified crops produced and regulated by an evil company which can withstand a ton of spraying are the real problem, along with development, and cities mowing the edges of highways polluting all the way. Don’t just plant one milkweed, plant ten. Not just one aster or ironweed, ten. Not just one liatris, 9.5. :)
    Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Monarchs Passing

  2. says

    The day after the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Santa Cruz, CA, I went to the Eucalyptus grove renowned for the thousands of monarchs that stop and rest their en route in their migration. Being at the foot of these majestic trees laden with butterflies, several hundred of which floated effortlessly in the air, gave me exactly the peace and courage I needed.
    Naomi Sachs recently posted..Nature as Healer

  3. says

    What an amazing sight this must have been! My husband remembers when he was a boy seeing a host of Monarchs roosting in a tree on their farm one year; sadly, all we see today are a few at a time. I watched the PBS documentary on the Monarch migration last year–truly one of the most fascinating and amazing stories in all nature. Thanks for the info on the Monarch Monitoring Project; sounds like a great project.
    Rose recently posted..2010 Post Season Garden Awards

  4. says

    We used to be a stop on the Monarch migration with clouds of butterflies in our field of mint. The field of mint is still there, but for the past two years we have hardly seen a monarch. Have they changed their route, or is this really bad news?
    commonweeder recently posted..Fall’s Fruitfullness

  5. Betty says

    Tuesday 9/16/2014′ sea isle city NJ
    make no mistake Sea Isle city in definitely on the migration path! I noticed them about 2 yrs ago just after Labor Day of 2012…staying on 5th floor on beachfront condo. I went on line and discovered that they actually were(are) Monarchs!
    I did not see them last year (2013), but today as I drove through Strathmere I was once again delighted to see so many.
    Right now, I am again on 5th floor, beachside condo in SeaIsleCity, NJ, and they are fluttering right across and all around my balcony and windows. I feel so blessed to witness such precious and delicate lovely little butterflies.
    I recall that in 2012 they seemed to have settled in and hung around till the weather changed, or maybe the currents was for about 5-7 days of butterfly joy…
    And then Via con Dios little ones. . . .


  1. […] Amazing Monarch Migration Phenomenon–hundreds of thousands of Monarch Butterflies pass through Cape May every year on their way to their wintering Grounds in Mexico. And every once in a while, you can be lucky enough to experience a “Big Day.” Follow @CB4wildlife […]

  2. […] Monarch butterflies also had a good year after a very hard winter last year. I’m thankful to all of the wildlife gardeners who have created Monarch Way Stations in their gardens by adding so many milkweeds (Aesclepias spp). This migratory phenomenon can only continue if we continue to support the monarchs with milkweed. […]

  3. […] Monarch butterflies from the east coast spend the winter in Mexico as adults and then journey north and lay their eggs in the spring, with each generation moving further and further north. The last generation in the fall will not lay eggs, but fly all the way back to Mexico to spend the winter again. […]

  4. […] fall an amazing phenomenon occurs as millions of Monarch butterflies make their way from across Canada and throughout the US to their wintering sites in the mountain forests of Mexico […]

  5. […] Many species of wildlife undergo seasonal movements to seek food, water or breeding habitat, and their migrations make for great Discovery Channel viewing.  Ski slopes are shut down to make way for migrating elk. […]

  6. […] Amazing Monarch Migration Phenomenon “On September 18th there was an estimated half million Monarch butterflies in Cape May, NJ.The team of researchers from the Monarch Monitoring Project had been noticing extremely high numbers of Monarchs all day, and they had tagged many of these butterflies as part of their ongoing project” by Carole Sevilla Brown […]

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