Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Three ways you can help monarch butterflies this fall

Monarch butterfly in Central Park, New York, October 2007, photo by Paul Stein (Creative Commons).
Monarch butterfly in Central Park, New York, October 2007, photo by Paul Stein (Creative Commons).

Autumn is setting in, and monarchs are heading south for the winter. Our friends at the Monarch Joint Venture provided the information below, reminding us that fall is an important time to take action to help the butterflies.

Monarch populations have declined about 90 percent over the past 20 years. During the winter of 2013-14, numbers in Mexico reached an all-time low. Only an estimated 30 million individuals were counted, compared to nearly a billion in 1996-97. Numbers increased slightly last winter, but it will take a broad-scale effort involving many different stakeholders to create, restore, and enhance the habitat needed to bring monarch and other native pollinator populations to stable levels.

You can help. Fall can be a great time to engage in monarch conservation. Here are three ways to get involved.

1. Get an early start on next year’s habitat

Milkweeds and many other native plants need to go through a period of cold, moist stratification, or vernalization, in order to germinate. That is, the seeds remain dormant, or not ready to grow, until they are exposed to cold, moist conditions for an extended period of time. Planting seeds in the fall lets nature do this work for you, as it has been doing with native plants throughout history.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), by Tracy Ducasse (Wikimedia Commons).
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), by Tracy Ducasse (Wikimedia Commons).

Include a diverse array of bloom times when choosing species for your seed mix. As monarchs make their way to overwintering sites each fall, they search for abundant fall blooming plants to fuel their migration.

Get tips on creating habitat for monarchs.

Fall is also a good time to start planning for a spring planting. Decide which species you would like to plant, draw up a plan or design, and start searching for where you might be able to obtain those plant materials. Ensure seeds have been artificially cold-stratified by the producer so that they’re ready to germinate soon after they are planted. If the producer doesn’t do that for you, here are directions to do it yourself.

How to store, treat, and plant milkweeds seeds.

2. Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge was initiated by the White House and the National Pollinator Garden Network. It calls on individuals, schools, community groups, and businesses to register a million public and private gardens to support pollinators. Any size garden — from window and patio planters, to home gardens, to pathways and roadsides, to acres of prairies and meadows — can help create pollinator and monarch habitat.

Read more about the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

As part of the challenge, the Monarch Joint Venture is submitting Monarch Habitat Success Stories from an interactive map on its website. Many of MJV partners are sharing their certified habitats as well.

Read about Monarch Habitat Success Stories.

Journey North_220x2013. Participate in a citizen-science project

Citizen scientists have been tracking monarch migration and breeding for over 20 years. The data they report are vital to our understanding of monarch biology, ecology, and their amazing migration. Plus, the work is exciting and fun, an important way to help monarchs year-round. Here are ways you participate this fall:

Journey North – Help document the fall migration by reporting peak migration and roost sightings. You can also track the migration in real time by checking Journey North’s interactive map, which shows reports from other monarch trackers across North America.

Monarch Watch and Southwest Monarch Study – If monarchs are still moving through your area, you can help identify migration patterns and success by tagging butterflies for Monarch Watch (eastern migratory monarchs) or the Southwest Monarch Study (southwest monarchs).

Project Monarch Health – If you’re tagging butterflies or releasing any that you have captured from the wild or reared, you can help track the natural occurrence of the OE parasite by sampling breeding and migratory monarchs and sending samples to Project Monarch Health.

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project – Finally, though the season may be winding down in your area, researchers are very interested in data about breeding monarchs, shown by the presence of eggs and larvae on milkweed plants. Monitor milkweeds for eggs and larvae as long as milkweed is present (until it dies back) and report what you see. It is important to report whatever you are seeing, even if no monarch eggs and larvae are on the plants.

Monarch Joint Venture_220x60The Monarch Joint Venture is a partnership of federal agencies, state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs. Guided by the North American Monarch Conservation Plan (2008), it works throughout the United States to conserve and protect monarch populations and their migratory phenomena by implementing science-based habitat conservation and restoration measures in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. The Monarch Joint Venture was initiated in December 2008.

Monarch migration tracked for the first time (August 23, 2013).

Five backyards that birds (and butterflies) love.


New to birdwatching?

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, descriptions of birding hotspots, and more delivered to your inbox every other week. Sign up now.

See the contents of our current issue.

How to subscribe to BirdWatching.

  Originally Published

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free