Vibrant colors flooded the streets of the Pearl under cloudy, gray skies as the fourth annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival wrapped up Sunday morning.

Children squealed as they touched butterflies for the first time, remarking that their wings were soft and their legs danced quickly.

Festival attendees sporting fabric butterfly wings marched in en eye-catching parade, in a tribute of sorts to the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterfly, the reason for the festival.

San Antonio signed the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge in 2015 and became the first Monarch Champion city.

The pledge committed San Antonio to creating a better habitat for monarch butterflies and pollinators by agreeing to accomplish 24 related action items. There are now six such cities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, four of which are located in Texas, according to NWF’s website.

Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival organizer and Rivard Report co-founder Monika Maeckle

One of the two dozen action items required for Monarch Champion status is to host or support a city monarch butterfly festival. The goal of San Antonio’s festival is to raise awareness about the role pollinators play in everyone’s daily lives, said festival organizer and Rivard Report co-founder Monika Maeckle.

The fourth annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival spanned Oct. 12-20 and included workshops for educators, movie screenings, a forum focused on migration and immigration underwritten in part by the Rivard Report and moderated by Rivard Report environmental reporter Brendan Gibbons, and the Sunday morning festival and parade.

“If you care about food, if you care about drink, you need to care about the insect and wildlife pollinators that make those food and drink possible,” Maeckle said. “One of every three bites of food is made possible by wildlife pollinators. … Food doesn’t just happen, it doesn’t just show up in a plastic container. It takes a lot to get that food on a plate or that drink in a bottle.”

This is an important lesson to learn at a time when the existence of pollinators is threatened, said David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation.

Recent years have seen a steep decline in the number of monarch butterflies. Current counts show monarch butterfly numbers are down roughly 70 percent from the population highs in the 1990s, Mizejewski said. That can be attributed to the eradication of native plants and rapid development of formerly natural areas.

This was the reason Sandra Estrada visited the festival for the second straight year. Wearing a handmade monarch butterfly headband and orange and black makeup, Estrada marched in Sunday’s parade, twirling her wings as she walked.

Estrada, a festival docent, told the Rivard Report that the reason she was in attendance was to contribute to the conversation about pollinators’ role in our world.

“Too many buildings go up, taking away plants and the natural life that existed before,” Estrada said. “We wouldn’t be here without butterflies and pollinators.”

Festival docent Sandra Estrada walks in the Pollinators Parade.

Mizejewski encouraged advocates to grow native plants to create more hospitable environments for butterflies and other pollinators.

“This is wildlife conservation in the scale of your yard,” he said. “You’re not going to save polar bears from extinction in your backyard but you better bet you can turn the tide for monarch butterflies, as well as our native bees which are declining, as well as many songbirds which are declining.”

Throughout Sunday morning, festival attendees learned these lessons and more at a number of educational activities and booths. Children learned how to tag butterflies with special stickers that allow for tracking along their migratory path.

At noon, a choreographer led a group “waggle dance” to show the way bees signal where pollination is needed.

Five Girl Scouts from Troop 2600 were delighted to take in Sunday morning’s activities, saying they loved learning about their favorite insect.

“Today I learned that they migrate from Canada to Mexico,” fourth-grader Areli said. “They travel such a long way and they are so beautiful.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.