Bird Migration


Picture of wild birds migratingEvery spring and fall, the changes in our seasons are marked by massive movements of wild birds known as migration. The migration of many of our native birds is a spectacular affair. This is one of the most amazing seasonal phenomena that a backyard birder can witness. Vast migrations of birds across North America will create new visitors stopping in your backyard at this time. Be prepared with a good pair of binoculars, a field guide for identification and plenty of bird food!

Why Do Birds Migrate?

In winter, birds will tend to congregate in the southern parts of their ranges. As the season grows colder and food supply diminishes, birds withdraw southward where food is easier to obtain. In the fall, more than 350 species of birds leave for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, traveling thousands of miles to their winter homes. They may travel hundreds of miles in a day or great distances in carefully organized flocks. Many species travel by night and may fly non-stop over large bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico. Birds will readily accept suet, a fresh source of water and a backyard feeder full of bird seed as they make their long journeys.

Birds migrate through aerial corridors called flyways. There are various theories explaining how flocks of migrating birds find their way across long distances. Different species may use different environmental clues such as the stars, the earth’s magnetic field, the sun or landmarks such as rivers, mountain ranges or seacoasts. Birds not only migrate from North to South and back, but also between East and West and mountains and plains. Birds will follow the course of a season’s flower crop or insect hatches. Banding has proven that some birds will visit the same backyard year after year. No matter where you live in North America, migratory birds will drop by your backyard.

Learn the secrets to identifying your backyard birds

In the Spring, as early as February and March, the migrants begin their miraculous return. The timing of their migration is triggered by hormonal changes brought about by the lengthening daylight hours as Winter recedes.

So Why Do Birds Go Back North Then?

We can only guess that they are obeying a primitive urge to produce new generations of their species in the same general area in which they and their ancestors originated. Many migrant backyard birds are actually tropical species that simply go back home in the winter. During the spring and summer breeding season, they are attracted to North America by the abundance and variety of food and nesting sites to be found here.

What You Can Do To Help

Few of us think about what we can do to help these birds survive their grueling trips and the stresses that await them as they return to raise their young. Habitat loss and degradation adds to their hardship. Habitat needed for food and shelter is disappearing at an alarming rate. The destruction of tropical rain forests in Central and South America has had a disastrous effect on birds. Many songbirds that migrate to North America have been threatened with extinction as a result of habitat loss.

Year round feeding is important. In fact, most wild birds will visit a feeder more often in the Fall and Spring due to the increased demands of migration, building nests and raising their young. Keep your feeders up and full of fresh food all year. Keep nesting boxes up all year. They will be welcomed in the Spring by nesting birds, but can also be used as roosting boxes by species that overwinter in your area. Create a natural bird habitat in your own backyard designed to provide food, shelter, water and nesting sites for birds.

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