Bird Migration Types

When I look to the sky and see a flock of birds in a migratory formation it inspires a peaceful, calming sensation. It’s fascinating to take a moment from whatever task is at hand, and ponder how these birds can soar for miles and miles in this perfect shape. Why do they make this tedious annual journey? How do they know when it’s time to take flight? To what lovely, warmer climate are they traveling? … And why can’t I go with them?

Simply put, birds migrate when the food and nesting resources in their habitat are exhausted, which is usually due to seasonal changes. Though it’s not completely known for sure, ornithologists believe migration is triggered by a combination of changes in the length of the day, temperatures falling, depletion of food supplies, and genetic predisposition.

Different species of birds migrate different distances ranging from just a couple of miles down the road, to across continents. Here is a break down of four basic migration types and where a few of my favorite feathered friends (these will vary slightly from region to region) fit into the formation…

Long Distance Migrants – will travel distances from Canada and the United States to Central and South America. These can include the vast majority of North American bird species such as vireos, flycatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, ducks, geese, swans, tanagers, Blackburnian Warblers, orioles, Arctic Terns and swallows.

Nomadic/Irregular Migrants – These birds only follow the food. When it runs out the move on, and when they find a good source they may become residents. These can include robins, blue jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

Short Distance Migrants – may travel a few hundred miles or only change elevation by moving up or down a mountainside. These can include waxwings and American Tree Sparrows.

Residents – Some birds will stick out the winter where they are, or not travel but only a few miles to reach warmer temperatures. They tend to acclimate to temperature well, and eat a wider range of foods like seeds. These can include cardinals, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, pigeons, doves and finches.

Bird migration infographic