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How Do Birds Migrate?

Updated on May 23, 2022
Anita Hasch profile image

Anita's main passion in life is reading and writing. She also loves watching birds.


Birds Instincts Are Highly Developed

It is a mystery how migrating birds use the Earth’s magnetic fields. They use the magnetic fields to navigate to faraway destinations.

Closely bound up with this amazing feat is the migrating bird’s hereditary gift which is their ‘homing instinct.’ Their instincts are very efficient and as accurate as the most expensive compass.

They fly to the sunny south accurately and with no hesitation as to their destination. They know exactly where they are heading.

Birds Also Fly By Night

Birds have been navigating confidently all over the world for over a million years, even before the compass was invented in the 12th century.

Many of the migrating birds start their journey at night, especially the small birds. They would be observed in the evening and in the morning they had disappeared. It was only in the 18h century that ornithologists discovered that birds do fly at night.

Bullfinches Belong To The Finch Family

Bullfinch Pyrrhula

  • This is a small genus of passerine birds, commonly known as bullfinches belonging to the finch family.
  • The Latin pyrrhula comes from the Greek purrhoulas meaning ‘worm eating bird.’ They can be taught to imitate a whistle.
  • In South Africa they are popular cage birds. The bullfinches have a sad call note.
  • Bullfinches are widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia and England.

Birds Migrate Thousands of Miles Away

A Manx shearwater is a small seagull-like bird. Many live on the coast of Wales in burrows dug in a cliff. Many years ago one of the Manx shearwater birds was banded and taken by air to Boston in America.The bird was released and within twelve and a half days arrived at its burrow home in Wales.

His trip took him 3,050 miles across the ocean. How such elaborate instincts can be inherited is a miracle. Something exists in each migrating bird’s small brain that enables him to navigate for thousands of miles.

Backyard Birds. National Geographic. Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America. by Jon L Dunn and Jonathan K Aldeifer

The Best Birding Guide on the Market

  • I loved this book and although I am only a beginner in bird watching, the book is very easy to understand.
  • This field guide gives you fast access to the information on over 150 species of birds. With millions of bird-watchers in North America and the rest of the World.
  • It is ideal for beginners and for professional bird-watchers.
  • This is the sixth edition of this book, and has 576 pgs with extensive migration information.
  • This guide covers 150 species of North American birds.
  • This edition has more illustrations, plates are now including text, to enhance the key features. It has updated range maps, and extensive subspecies maps.
  • This book is a must read by all bird watches and lovers. I really enjoy reading about our little feathered friends. Migrating birds have always left me in wonder. How can a small little bird fly thousands of miles and return when the seasons is over to find it’s home again. What amazing navigation. One can only wonder at Gods amazing creation.

Born Close To The North Pole

  • An Arctic tern, born close to the North Pole, leaves home at the age of only six weeks, yet he can find his way to the Antarctic pack ice approximately 11,000 miles away.
  • After wintering there he flies back to the same northern nesting place for the summer.
  • How does his tiny brain navigate such a long journey, just the amazing fact that his little heart and wings can carry him so far is surely a miracle.

The Magic of Hummingbirds

  • Hummingbirds name comes from the humming noise that they make when they flap their wings.
  • Their long, tampered bill is used to obtain nector from the flowers.
  • They eat flower nectar, insects and pollen.
  • Small, colorful birds with beautiful feathers.
  • Humming birds can fly upside down. They also fly right, left, up and down.
  • They hover by flapping their wings and one hovered against the kitchen window the other day.
  • They use their feet for perching and do not hop or walk.

Hummingbirds always seem so joyful

Humming bird in all its glory.
Humming bird in all its glory. | Source

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How Do Birds Navigate

  • How do they navigate, by the moon, the winds, the climate or the earth’s magnetism?
  • How do they obtain their sense of navigation?
  • Besides using the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate it is generally assumed that birds also navigate by using magnetic sensitive cells in their beaks.
  • Scientist in Germany have recorded that when birds get ready for migration they use magnetic orientation.
  • Migrating birds are lost when thick clouds or fog hide the sun and stars.
  • When this happens they circle hopelessly in the sky and if lighthouses are in the vicinity, they are drawn to the light.

Condensed from article on birds by Max Eastman 1959

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Anita Hasch


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