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Where do your backyard birds migrate in the winter?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

Confession: I was never much of a bird person. Until, that is, I saw what is surely one of the world’s weirdest birds, the helmeted hornbill. It has a raw, red, wrinkly neck, a solid “horn” above its beak, and two black-and-white striped tail feathers more than 18 inches long. (Granted, the shoebill stork is a contender for weirdest looking bird too. It’s so strange, in fact, Snopes did a write-up on whether or not it was real).

Late in the fall migration season, I’m thinking about birds a lot. Nearly half a million snow geese stop for a rest in Missouri on their way south. Songbirds are heading down to Florida. And in southern Arizona, hummingbirds amass before flying south to Mexico. Billions of birds migrate. Get out and take a look!

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Today in a minute

Swine flu’s toll: About a quarter of pigs worldwide are expected to die of the disease, says the president of the World Organization for Animal Health. The disease has spread to China, home to half the world’s pigs, said Dr. Mark Schipp. The wipeout could create shortages of food and supplies of products made from pigs, such as the blood-thinner heparin. “I don’t think the species will be lost, but it’s the biggest threat to the commercial raising of pigs we’ve ever seen,” the Associated Press quoted Schipp as saying.

Not the dog next door: Here’s a state-by-state look at where adopted dogs come from. It’s often farther than you think. One dog up for adoption in New Hampshire named Ferb, for example, hails all the way from Spain. Check out your state, via The Pudding.

A songbird’s secret: Scientists are finding clues to evolutionary cognition from a New Zealand robin, The Conversation reports. The gray robin, known as a toutouwai, caches food for later and remembers its hiding places. The males with better memory, a study says, had better breeding success. Birds, it seems, are capable of both remembering but also preparing for the future: New Caledonian crows, hailing from an island about 1,000 miles to the northwest, can plan several steps ahead.

Saving a meal, part II: Underwater, the black swallower also can carry extra meals—in its expandable belly. The deep sea fish doesn’t find much to eat that far down, but there are fewer predators as well, so it can take its time feeding. Liz Langley looks at other food storers, from pitcher plants to pelicans to chipmunks.

Roomba of the sea? The Indo-Pacific lionfish is beautiful in an aquarium, but when it was released into the Atlantic it became a menace to native fish and reef ecosystems. Colin Angle, the cofounder of iRobot, developed a 20-pound submersible that captures 20 lionfish at a time, resurfaces, and dives back down for another haul, the Christian Science Monitor reports. While lionfish are tasty and nutritious, it would take a lot of submersibles, though, to make a dent. A single female lionfish can lay up to two million eggs a year.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Rescued. Meet Keanu, a one-year-old male ocelot who was destined for the illegal wildlife trade before being rescued. Keanu is being reintroduced to the wild on 5,000 acres of protected rainforest along the Las Piedras River in Peru. Nearly 2.4 million readers liked this photo on our Instagram page.

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Overheard at National Geographic

Finding Alegría. In 2017, Natasha Daly documented the story of a manatee kept captive in Peru for tourists to touch and feed. A year later authorities and an NGO rescued the manatee, named Alegría, which means happiness. Last week, Daly got to see Alegría, who is in a pool with a few other manatees at a center for rescued Amazon animals, before her return to the wild. She’s thriving, Daly reports on her Instagram page. She called it “a special full-circle moment.” Catch additional Nat Geo stories on Overheard, our podcast. Subscribe here.

The big takeaway

The snow leopard. “It is wary and elusive to a magical degree, and so well camouflaged in the places it chooses to lie that one can stare straight at it from yards away and fail to see it.” That’s Peter Matthiessen, in awe of the rare snow leopard, from the classic 1978 book of the same name. As few as 2,700 adult snow leopards, relics of the Ice Age, now remain in the world, Paul Salopek wrote for National Geographic in 2017. They are sprinkled thinly at altitudes above 6,000 feet across a dozen mountainous nations in Central Asia. Matthiessen never saw one despite months of attempts. The animal’s elusiveness to Matthiessen, wrote the New Yorker’s M.R. O’Connor, “became a lesson in the Buddhist idea of non-attachment—the radical letting go of one’s regrets about the past and dreams for the future, in order to be present in the here and now."

One last glimpse

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Flight line. Pelicans fly through the sky while they are migrating through Adana, Turkey. Related: The epic stories of migratory birds.

This newsletter has been curated by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Have a great day, and thanks for reading!