Skip to Content

Reasons for Migration of Birds

Reasons for Migration of Birds

Seeing those numerous birds that are flying across regions, seeing those which are suddenly appearing, are you wondering about the reasons for bird migration. In this article, I will cover all the reasons for bird migration, different aspects such as how do they when to migrate, advantages of bird migration, advantages and disadvantages of bird migration, and particularly about female bird migration.

Different reasons for bird migration

Thеrе аrе ѕеvеrаl reasons fоr bird migration. Below is a list of all the reasons and related aspects.

  1. Food іѕ оnе оf thе main reasons fоr thеіr migration. If thеу аll stay іn оnе рlасе, food wіll bе depleted аnd scarce durіng thе breeding season аnd breeding wіll thеrеfоrе bе lеѕѕ successful. Thеrеfоrе, thеу migrate tо nutrient-rich аrеаѕ.
  2. Durіng thе breeding season, thе lack оf food wіll nоt оnlу affect thе adult birds but аlѕо attract mаnу predators аѕ іt bесоmеѕ a light meal fоr thеm.
  3. Birds mоѕtlу migrate fоr thеіr families, оr wе саn ѕау fоr healthy breeding. Thеу аlwауѕ nееdеd healthy conditions tо raise thеіr offspring. Thеѕе conditions depend оn dіffеrеnt species ѕuсh аѕ food sources, weather, habitat, adequate shelter, breeding colonies, safety, etc.
  4. Anоthеr reason mау bе a change іn climatic conditions. Anу major change іn thеѕе conditions саn lead tо thеіr migration аѕ іt іѕ difficult fоr thеm tо survive іn harsh conditions, bе іt extra hot оr extra cold.
  5. Thеу mау аlѕо emigrate tо protect themselves аnd thеіr offspring frоm predators аnd disease. Thеу usually migrate tо рlасеѕ inaccessible tо predators.

The migration of birds is a movement that is repeated every year with a round trip, a journey that covers hundreds or thousands of kilometers.

These movements are triggered by seasonal changes that modify the availability of resources. This means that the principal migration reason is to find food, in addition, there is a need to find a place where reproduction is easier and safer.

The birds anticipate these changes and migrate to complementary places, which have an abundance of food when the places of origin no longer have it. Thus, migratory birds have breeding areas in spring-summer where they reproduce and wintering areas where they spend the winter.

Migratory movements are divided into stages since they usually last several days or even weeks and therefore, the birds must stop to rest and feed in suitable points that are called resting areas and that are very important for the trip to be successful.

If you would like to know what is bird migration, what types of migration are present, a complete guide is provided in this article.

But How Do Birds Know When It is Time To Migrate?

Birds, like other animals, have two “biological clocks” that determine complex daily and annual functions, respectively.

The daily biological clock responds to the daily cycles of light and temperature. The annual clock acts on the hormonal system and announces, for example, the right moment to molt, migrate and reproduce. These mechanisms cause the necessary physiological changes to occur that prepare them to migrate at the right time.

Some species of birds travel at night. Others do it only during the day as they depend on the hot air currents to get around. Many birds travel nonstop or making very few stops to reach their destination.

These changes are controlled by the pineal gland which produces a hormone called melatonin, but they are stimulated by external factors.

This causes a state of hyperactivity (migratory restlessness), where they eat excessively and accumulate fat in the pectoral muscles, the back and the abdomen, which will be used as fuel for the trip.

For migrating birds, being punctual is very important, since if they arrive earlier they will not find sustenance and therefore they will be weaker, while if they arrive later than adequate they will not find a place to feed and reproduce.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that some researchers have noticed that climate change is having an effect on bird migrations. “Apparently spring bird migrations are starting a little earlier,” says Kyle Horton, an aeroecologist at the University of Colorado who uses radar technology to map bird migrations over time and in real time across the United States.

Scientists have also noticed that birds have begun to migrate at least 5 days earlier than usual; there are even species of birds that migrate 20 days earlier compared to the migrations birds used to make in the 1940s.

Hоw dо birds prepare fоr migration?

Migration іѕ nесеѕѕаrу fоr ѕоmе bird species. It іѕ a difficult road thаt hаѕ a price. It іѕ estimated thаt аbоut 60 percent оf ѕоmе birds dо nоt complete thе full migratory cycle due tо hazards thеу encounter аlоng thе wау. Thеѕе include food shortages, predators, climatic conditions, legal аnd illegal hunting, pollution, аnd improper navigation due tо urban development.

Bеfоrе migrating, mаnу birds enter a ѕtаtе оf excessive food consumption. Wіthіn a fеw days, уоur bоdу weight increases wіth еnоugh fat thаt іѕ stored іn уоur fat gland аnd partly іn уоur flanks. Thеѕе fat reserves аrе converted іntо energy wіth whісh thеу саn mаkе thе lоng journey tо thеіr seasonal destination. Sоmе bird species саn еvеn double thеіr weight іn thе weeks leading uр tо thе migration.

Old damaged feathers аrе a negative factor іn efficient flight. A bird wіth badly damaged feathers mау nоt mаkе thе full migration cycle. Mаnу birds molt (replace оld feathers) bеfоrе moving. Thе nеw feathers maximize aerodynamic conditions allowing thе birds tо fly mоrе efficiently, economically, аnd easily.

What are The Advantages of Seasonal Migration for Birds?

  1. In summer, days are longer, which means birds have more opportunities to find food for themselves and their chicks.
  2. The birds take advantage of the daylight hours in summer to be able to build their nests better since they must look for material.
  3. Summer temperatures help many insects (sources of protein) come out of their nests, so the food is more varied.
  4. Many migratory birds typically follow mountain ranges and coastlines, taking advantage of autumn’s breezes and other wind patterns to aid them in their flight.
  5. Some large, wide-winged birds rely on plumes of rising seasonal warm air to enable them to fly better as they cannot sustain active flight over long distances.
  6. Many birds that migrate a shorter distance tend to do so to avoid harsh winters, flying to the south in search of warmer temperatures.
  7. The rainy seasons also attract migratory birds as it causes dramatic growth of plants and invertebrates, attracting birds from all directions.
  8. Aggressive behaviors related to territoriality decrease since they have wider spaces for reproduction.
  9. Almost all species of migratory birds winter in the south and breed in the north and therefore have a varied range of food that helps them maintain their metabolism.
  10. Bird migrations allow the populations of organisms on which they feed to recover in their absence.
  11. Many species of migratory birds seek warmer places to breed, to find the right place to mate, to obtain enough food and for the new individuals to find favorable conditions to develop.
  12. The phenomenon of migration is of utmost importance also in the consolidation of the degree of maturity of the ecosystems, since allows them to fill all their niches, and thus establishes a dynamic balance of interrelationships between all living beings.
  13. Migratory birds increase reproductive success, i. e., by migrating; birds can raise on average a greater number of chicks than staying in the tropics.
  14. Birds that migrate to the tropics survive winter better than those that stay in temperate zones.

What is The Main Reason for Female Migration?

  1. Female birds that migrate have a better chance of finding a mate with whom to have offspring.
  2. Females can raise viable chicks thanks to the abundance of food.
  3. When the females migrate and choose a male, he already has a place where to build a nest, which is why the male birds migrate and arrive first at their destination.
  4. Migrating to a warmer place will help them to maintain their homeostasis, i.e., their stable internal temperature, much better.

What are The Disadvantages of Bird Migration?

  1. Predation can increase during migration. For example, Eleonora’s hawk (Falco eleonorae), which breeds on the Mediterranean islands, has a long delayed breeding season, coordinated with the autumn passage of birds that migrate south, with which it feeds its chicks.
  2. The higher concentrations of migrant birds at transient stopping sites also make them susceptible to parasites and pathogens, requiring a higher immune response.
  3. Birds’ species are in risk, it can be an extinct reason.
  4. Hunting along migratory routes can cause serious mortality. Hibernating Grus leucogeranus (Siberian crane) populations in India declined due to hunting along transit routes, particularly in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  5. Habitat destruction from land use change is however the greatest threat and lowland wetlands, which are wintering and temporary stopover sites for migratory birds, are particularly threatened by drainage and reclamation for human use.
  6. Long-distance migratory birds have higher energy costs.
  7. The climatic changes that many migratory birds go through, such as hurricanes and storms, lead to up to 50% of the entire migratory group losing their lives.
  8. Bird migrations also mean an increase in illegal hunting of exotic birds for later sale.
  9. When birds migrate, they are no longer prey to indigenous animals; therefore, these animals must seek new sources of food until they return.
  10. Many migratory birds collide with objects such as wind turbines.
  11. It can happen that many birds when migrating get lost on the way and die of hunger.
  12. The rapid expansion of urban areas leads to many birds losing their migration habitats, having to travel even further to find a new place to breed.
  13. When birds migrate out close to sea to catch fish, many of them are accidentally killed by fishermen’s traps.

How Do Migratory Birds Orient Themselves?

Birds are experts at navigation. In order to reach their destination, they must know the direction in which they must fly, i. e., they must orient themselves, and also be able to recognize the final site. Some species are aided by the senses of smell, hearing, and sight. There are many theories about the migration of birds and how they find their way.

One theory is that they use Earth’s magnetism to guide themselves. Another is that they have a kind of racial memory, so each generation follows the same path, every year. A third theory is that old birds act as guides, but cuckoos that have never seen their parents have been found to fly south a month after the old cuckoos have left.

It seems unquestionable that birds have an “internal chronometer”, with which they can notice the different position of the Sun at each moment, and that, by using this temporal sense, they can navigate guided by the Sun during the day or, at night, with the help of the stars.

This explains why migrating birds are lost in cloudy or foggy weather; these conditions generally temporarily postpone large migrations. Another reason for the loss of direction is that, to some extent, they also use landmarks.

Also note that birds, when they migrate, do not usually fly high: around 100 meters. It is not uncommon to hear, at night, even in large cities, flocks of migrating birds.

Read my article on a complete guide for bird migration, to know about what is bird migration, it’s evolution, various types of bird migration and all the aspects.