1. Home
  2. Learn & Care
  3. Wild bird
  4. Where Birds Go In The Winter

Where Birds Go In The Winter

Where Birds Go In Winter

By Angela Minor

Where do birds go in the winter? Of all the species that travel around the planet, birds travel the furthest. North American migratory birds generally fly in a southerly direction from their breeding grounds to search for seasonal resources.

Where Birds Go In The Winter

What is migration?

In the avian world there are three general types of migratory movements:

Short migrations: Some species, such as siskins and goldfinches, only travel a few miles between their seasonal ranges. Others make the short journey from higher elevations to lower for the winter.
Medium migrations: The Eastern Bluebird and Killdeer are examples of those who make state-to-state or region-to-region migrations in North America. While they may be permanent residents some years, other years they take to the skies.
Long-distance migrations: These birds travel hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of miles round trip, dispersing themselves across the globe.

Why do birds migrate?

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of migration is that it appears to be anticipatory behavior. While the motivation (or biological imperative) to migrate corresponds to resources, primarily food and nesting opportunities, birds don't wait for cold or lack of food to take flight. For example, they exhibit pre-migratory preparation by gaining weight in response to the length of daylight. Some species also become restless after dark as the seasons change as a behavior preceding nighttime migrations.

Where do birds go in the winter?

All birds are making the calculations to breed in beneficial environments and overwinter tend to navigate to resource-rich nonbreeding climates. In North America roughly 350 species reach southern locations winging through four main flyways: Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific. These zones" roughly correlate with U.S. time zones going east to west. 

Waterfowl, cranes, sparrows and others may stop in the United States, while many warblers and shorebirds will often continue into the Caribbean, Central and South America and beyond. Taking flight from the Arctic Refuge in Alaska, the Northern Wheatear (a small songbird), has the longest known avian migration distance at a whopping 13,000 miles one way to its winter home in Africa! 

The Arctic Tern, another long-distance traveler, breeds in the upper reaches of the North American continent and flies 12,500 miles one way to the continent of Antarctica for winter and returns north again in the spring. The Bar-tailed Godwit, a wading shorebird, makes an epic journey of 7,000 miles from Alaska across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand in approximately eight continuous days without stopping! And our familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbird, weighing less than a nickel, can fly over 600 miles of open water in the Caribbean during migration.

How do birds migrate?

The answer is one of the great mysteries of the natural world. Scientists speculate that the Earth's magnetic field is detectable; topography is readable; celestial bodies are signposts; adults teach their offspring (although some fly solo, at night, on a journey they've never made!), or, a combination thereof keeps birds from 
getting lost.

~
Join our birding conversations on Facebook, and feel free to share on your favorite social media platforms.

Source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Migration of Birds, Circular 16.

Learn about Wild Birds