Have you ever noticed that you don’t see or hear as many birds in the winter? Where do they go? They migrate!

Migration is when a species seasonally  travels to different locations. Migration can be over short or long distances. For example, migratory birds in North America typically spend spring and summer in northern Canada, then will fly south in the fall to spend the colder months in warmer weather. In Canada, most species that migrate are birds. Some of these migratory birds include common loons, osprey, red-winged blackbirds, turkey vultures, northern saw-whet owl, and the great blue heron.

Three Ring-necked ducks. Photo by Joshua Giesbrecht.

While Canada is home to around 450 migratory bird species, there are also many other flying species that migrate. These include butterflies, dragonflies, and bats. Did you know that not all species that migrate can fly? Along the eastern coast of Canada, whales and sea turtles migrate in the water. In northern Canada, caribou migrate on land. There are several reasons for a species to migrate. In many cases, a species will migrate so they have good conditions for food, habitat, and/or breeding. For many species, this means traveling to warmer areas during Canadian  winter and back to the cooler areas in the summer. 

A common migratory bird familiar to most people  is the Canada goose. The Canada goose travels to places like the southern United States to avoid the cold. You have probably seen their classic “V” flying formation when they are migrating. From April to June, they migrate to northern Canada where their breeding grounds are.

Many animals migrate to the same spots each year, sometimes after traveling thousands of kilometers. How do they know where to go? That’s a great question that scientists still ask. Many scientists think that birds are born with a sort of internal GPS , which allows them to navigate. Birds may also follow other birds, have landmarks they follow, or even use the Earth’s magnetic field to guide them. 

Keep an eye out in the fall for large flocks of birds flying towards the south. These birds are often heading somewhere warm and away from their breeding ground for the winter. You may be able to spot them in a nearby field taking a rest as they have very long flights. Migratory birds are incredible! 

Activity Time!

Check out this Migration Matching activity

For more awesome migration activities you can do at home, check out this activity guide by the National Environmental Foundation.