what birds migrate south for the winter

What Birds Migrate South for the Winter


Bird migration is a fascinating natural phenomenon. During the winter season, many bird species make the journey from colder northern regions to warmer southern areas to find food and survive the harsh weather conditions. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common birds that undertake this journey and shed some light on the ones that do not.

Birds That Migrate South for Winter

Below is a selection of bird species known for their winter migration:

  1. Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica): These birds migrate to the tropics during the winter, where food sources are more abundant.
  2. Canada Geese (Branta canadensis): Known for their impressive V-formation flocks, these birds fly south when the Canadian winter begins.
  3. Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica): As their insect food source decreases in the north, these birds migrate to warmer areas.
  4. Goldfinches: These small birds move southward in search of better food supplies as winter approaches.
  5. Hummingbirds: Tiny but mighty, these birds make an impressive migration journey towards the south.
  6. Mourning Doves: They migrate to the southern United States and Mexico during winter.
  7. Sandhill Cranes: These large birds travel south for the winter, gathering in huge numbers in certain key locations.
  8. Scarlet Tanagers (Piranga olivacea): These brightly colored birds retreat south when food becomes scarce.
  9. American White Pelicans: These birds often migrate in flocks, flying high in the sky.
  10. Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa): They migrate to escape the cold winters, often returning to their original nesting areas.

Birds That Don’t Migrate for the Winter

While many bird species migrate south for the winter, several others remain in their habitats and adapt to the changing seasons. Some of these include:

  1. Chukar Partridges
  2. Northern Cardinals
  3. Verdins
  4. Black-Capped Chickadees
  5. Wild Turkeys
  6. American Goldfinch
  7. Black-capped Chickadee
  8. American Crow
  9. Purple Finch
  10. Northern Cardinal
  11. Mourning Dove
  12. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  13. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  14. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  15. American Tree Sparrow
  16. Carolina Chickadee
  17. American Robin
  18. White-throated Sparrow
  19. Lewis’s Woodpecker
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  22. Tufted Titmouse
  23. Red-winged Blackbird
  24. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  25. White-breasted Nuthatch
  26. Blue Jay
  27. Purple Martin
  28. Carolina Wren
  29. Chipping Sparrow
  30. Baltimore Oriole
  31. Downy Woodpecker
  32. European Starling
  33. Evening Grosbeak (irregular)
  34. Hairy Woodpecker
  35. House Finch
  36. Indigo Bunting
  37. House Sparrow
  38. Killdeer
  39. Arctic Tern
  40. Pileated Woodpecker
  41. Common Grackle
  42. Ducks & Geese
  43. Common Raven
  44. Dark-eyed Junco
  45. Common Redpoll (irruptive)
  46. Great Horned Owl
  47. Eastern Bluebird
  48. Quails

Understanding Winter Bird Behavior

Not all birds fly south in winter. The migration pattern often depends on the type of food they eat. Birds that rely on nectar and insects, which may not be available in colder climates, tend to migrate south for sustenance. On the other hand, birds that eat seeds or bugs found under tree bark can stay through winter if food is available.

Birds usually migrate based on environmental cues, such as changes in daylight hours and food scarcity. However, some experts believe that bird feeders may affect migratory behavior by providing an abundant food source.

National Bird-Feeding Month

Every February, the National Bird-Feeding Society sponsors the National Bird-Feeding Month. This is a time when finding food can be especially challenging for wild birds in the United States. The society encourages people to provide food, water, and shelter to help wild birds survive.

Backyard bird-feeding has grown into a popular hobby, with over 55 million adults in the United States engaging in it, making it the second most popular hobby after gardening. This activity involves watching birds, learning about different types of birds and their diets, and even creating DIY bird feeders. Common birdseed blends include various seeds like black-oil sunflower, thistle, and cracked corn.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Q: Why do birds migrate south for the winter?
A: Birds migrate south for the winter primarily in search of food. As temperatures drop and food sources become scarce in the north, birds move to warmer regions where food is still readily available.

2. Q: How do birds know when to migrate?
A: Birds usually rely on environmental cues to know when to migrate. Changes in daylight hours, decreasing food sources, and changes in temperature all play a role in signaling birds that it’s time to migrate.

3. Q: What is the longest bird migration?
A: The Arctic Tern holds the record for the longest migration, traveling an astounding distance from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year.

4. Q: Are there any risks associated with bird migration?
A: Yes, bird migration comes with many risks, including exhaustion, hunger, predation, and harsh weather conditions. Unfortunately, human activities such as habitat destruction and climate change are also increasingly adding to these risks.

5. Q: Do all birds migrate?
A: No, not all birds migrate. Some birds, like the Northern Cardinals and Black-Capped Chickadees, do not migrate but instead adapt to winter conditions in their habitat.

6. Q: How can I help birds during the winter?
A: You can help birds during the winter by providing food, water, and shelter in your backyard. Setting up bird feeders with different types of seeds can provide a reliable food source for birds.

7. Q: What happens to birds that don’t migrate in the winter?
A: Birds that don’t migrate for the winter have adapted to survive the cold. They often change their diets to whatever food sources are available, fluff up their feathers for insulation, and seek shelter in dense trees or buildings to stay warm.

8. Q: How do birds find their way when migrating?
A: Birds use a variety of methods to navigate during migration, including the Sun, stars, the Earth’s magnetic field, and geographical landmarks. Some birds may also rely on a genetic predisposition to navigate.

9. Q: Why do birds fly in a V formation during migration?
A: Birds fly in a V formation to conserve energy during migration. The bird at the front of the formation creates an updraft that the birds behind can ride, reducing wind resistance and saving energy.


Understanding bird migration is crucial for their conservation. This seasonal movement, especially of those birds that migrate south for the winter, is a spectacle to behold and a testament to nature’s resilience. However, it’s equally important to acknowledge and assist those that stay behind and weather the winter. So whether it’s creating a backyard bird feeder or simply taking time to appreciate these creatures, remember that we play a role in their survival.

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