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Bird Migration


Of the 650 species of birds in North America, about half migrate every year. Why?

Birds migrate for lots of reasons, such as weather, available nesting sites, and instinct, but the main reason they migrate is for food. A bird that eats nectar and insects has to migrate to a warmer climate once the weather gets cold and those food sources disappear. A bird who eats seeds or insects hidden under tree bark can stick around for the winter.


Fun Facts

  • Some birds migrate a short distance, such as moving from a mountain to a plains area. Others migrate a few hundred miles or so. And still others, such as Canadian geese or swallows migrate thousands of miles.
  • Many birds, such as cardinals or mourning doves, don’t migrate at all. The number of birds that don’t leave their northern homes is growing because more people are leaving food out for them.
  • Young birds that have never migrated before seem to instinctually know the way to go. Scientists believe birds use the stars, the position of the sun, and even their sense of smell as navigation tools.
  • Every February, the National Audubon Society hosts the Great Backyard Bird Count. Spend 15 minutes counting the birds in your area. Send in the data to the Audubon Society. Scientists use this information to track the health of America’s birds.



  1. Instinctual: a behavior that is not taught
  2. Navigation: mapping


Questions and Answers

Question: How can I help birds who don’t migrate for the winter?

Answer: One of the best things you can do is place a bird feeder, and perhaps a bowl of water, in your yard for the birds.

Learn More

Visit the Cornell Bird Lab to see charts of migration paths and learn more about birds.



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Declan, Tobin. " Do all birds fly south in the winter? ." Easy Science for Kids, Aug 2020. Web. 13 Aug 2020. < >.

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