Nest Cams


Royal Society for
the Protection of Birds

Journey North



Home Adaptations Migration

Throughout the year, as you watch the changes in the seasons, you'll also notice changes in the types of birds you see in your own backyard. This intrigues the careful observer and sparks the curiosity of anyone who has ever wondered where these birds are coming from, where they're going to, and why they're on the move.

Franklin's Gulls
Franklin's Gulls
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

While many species of fish, mammals, and even insects undertake amazing migratory journeys, birds as a group are the most mobile creatures on Earth. Even with our trains, planes, bikes, and many vehicles, humans can't equal the mobility of some birds.

For example, no human population moves across distances as great as the Arctic Tern does, flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic twice each year.

In this module, you'll uncover the deepest secrets about the amazing journey called migration. You'll find out how birds navigate under the cover of darkness using magnetism. You'll discover why birds fly thousands of miles from one continent to another, year after year.

Early Myths about Migration

Myth: Birds hibernate during the winter.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle and his students believed that the reason many species of birds seemed to disappear in the fall was that the birds passed into a torpid (cooled down) state during the cold season, hidden in hollow trees, eaves, or in the mud of marshes. Aristotle thought that swallows as well as storks, kites, and doves went into hibernation.

Myth: Migratory birds fly to the moon.
Some humans believed that the best explanation of why birds disappeared during parts of the year was that these migratory birds flew to the moon and spent the season there.

Myth: Larger birds carry smaller birds on their backs.
Some tribes of Native Americans in the Western Hemisphere held similar beliefs about birds carrying each other. For example, they believed that hummingbirds rode on the backs of geese. These myths did have some basis in observation. They arose from situations you might really observe in nature, such as an Eastern Kingbird harassing a Great Horned Owl and actually perching on the shoulder of the owl's outstretched wing as the owl glided toward wooded cover.

Today, we know better than to believe these migration myths. We're well aware that birds are awake and active during the winter, that they stay right here on planet Earth, and that each bird flies its own remarkable journey with its own two wings rather than hitching rides on the backs of other birds.

We know the facts about bird migration, but the facts can be just as awe-inspiring as the myths. The migration phenomenon is not limited to the Northern Hemisphere – it's a wondrous, worldwide event that has filled the skies and stirred the heart season after season, year after year.


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