Migratory birds

Migratory birds

Migratory birds are a diverse group of avian species that are known for their remarkable seasonal journeys between breeding and wintering areas. These journeys can span continents and involve travelling thousands of miles.

The reasons behind these epic journeys are multifaceted. Migratory birds are driven by a complex interplay of environmental cues, including changes in day length, temperature, and the availability of food resources. As the seasons shift, migratory birds embark on their journeys to find optimal breeding and feeding grounds. The quest for abundant food. Suitable nesting sites and favourable climatic conditions motivate them to migrate, ensuring their survival and their survival and the success of their offspring. 

Every year, birds from 29 countries take a flight to India. We can spot large incoming flocks during September-October, marking the beginning of migration.

Arctic terns – extraordinary annual migratory bird

 These birds undertake pole-to-pole roundtrips spanning more than 60,000 miles—a record, believed to be the world’s longest migration of any animal. Other migrations involve birds flying east-west or up and down mountains.

Adélie penguin : Flightless migratory bird

This is a fascinating seabird that has adapted to life in the extreme conditions of the Antarctic region, which makes a nearly 8,000-mile trek through frigid Antarctica.

Jacobin Cuckoo: Harbinger of the monsoon rains

This species migrates from the eastern parts of Africa during summer to North and Central India. In North India, they breed from June to August, and in South Nilgiris, they breed from January to March.

Indian Pitta: The six o’clock bird

The species is termed as a “local migrant” – they fly within the Indian borders. During summers, they breed in India’s Central and Northern parts while migrating to the south in winters.

Steppe Eagle: The majestic national bird of Egypt

The Steppe Eagle are believed to be the second-largest long-distance migratory birds. It has an extensive breeding range from Southeast Europe, Central Asia, Russia, northern Kazakhstan to west Manchuria, north Tibet and Mongolia. From October onwards, they move south to undertake their winter sojourn to the Indian sub-continents. 

Importance of Migratory birds

These remarkable avian travellers play multifaceted roles that have significant ecological, economic, and cultural implications. Here are some of the key aspects of their importance:

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health:

  • Seed Dispersion: Migratory birds, by carrying seeds in their plumage or digestive systems, contribute to the dispersal of plant species across vast distances. This aids in the colonization of new areas, enhances genetic diversity, and promotes overall ecosystem health.
  • Pest control: Many migratory birds are insectivores and help regulate insect populations, which can be essential for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
  • Nutrient Cycling: The excretion of nutrients by migratory birds, such as nitrogen-rich guano, can enrich soils and benefit vegetation in their breeding and wintering areas

Ecosystem Connectivity: 

Birds connect diverse ecosystems, bridging breeding and wintering areas. This connectivity is essential for maintaining ecological processes and species interactions across a wide range of habitats.

Ecotourism and Economic Value:

  • Birdwatching Tourism: Migratory birds are a major attraction for birdwatching enthusiasts and tourists, contributing significantly to local economies. Observing these birds in their natural habitats provides economic incentives for habitat preservation.
  • Recreational Hunting: Sustainable hunting of migratory waterfowl in some regions generates revenue for conservation programs and can also help regulate population sizes.

Environmental Indicators:

  • Health of Ecosystems: The presence and behaviour of migratory birds can serve as indicators of ecosystem health. Declines in migratory bird populations may signal environmental disturbances, pollution, or habitat degradation.
  • Climate Change: The timing of bird migrations is influenced by climate, making migratory birds valuable indicators of climate change impacts on ecosystems.

Cultural and Aesthetic Value:

  • Cultural Significance: Migratory birds have cultural significance in many societies and are often featured in art, folklore, and religious traditions. They symbolize themes of freedom, renewal, and the changing of seasons.
  • Aesthetic Value: The beauty and diversity of migratory birds inspire artists, photographers, and writers, contributing to the cultural enrichment of society.

Scientific Research:

Studying migratory birds provides insights into various fields of science, including ornithology, ecology, and behavior. These studies can help us better understand the natural world and contribute to conservation efforts.

Global Conservation:

The conservation of migratory birds often requires international cooperation because these birds traverse multiple countries. International agreements and initiatives, such as the Convention on Migratory Species and various migratory bird treaties, are crucial for their protection.

Ecological Balance:

Some migratory raptors, like eagles and falcons, play essential roles as top predators in their ecosystems. Their presence helps maintain ecological balance by controlling prey species.

How do they know where to go? 

In addition to following celestial cues, such as the position of the sun, stars, and the moon, adult birds use a magnetic compass to navigate. Even when there are no landmarks, this internal “GPS system” can prevent them from getting lost.

Such navigational acumen can enable individual birds to move through regions not typically travelled. 

How do they know it’s time to go? 

For some birds, changes in environmental conditions, such as the length of the day, may trigger migration by stimulating hormones, telling the birds it’s time to fly.

Birds’ internal biological clocks can also detect when a season shifts, using cues such as changes in light and possibly air temperature.

Challenges faced by migratory birds in the modern world

  • Habitat loss and degradation due to urbanization, agriculture, and climate change are significant threats. 
  • Pollution, such as plastic debris in oceans and toxic chemicals, can harm both birds and their prey. 
  • Collisions with man-made structures like buildings and communication towers are a leading cause of bird mortality during migration. 


These challenges underscore the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect the habitats and flyways that migratory birds depend on. It is our responsibility to ensure the preservation of the habitats and ecosystems that support migratory birds, safeguarding their remarkable journeys for generations to come.

For more enriching educational resources and insights, delve further into Chrysalis High.


Why do migratory birds embark on long journeys each year?

Explore the factors driving migratory birds to undertake remarkable journeys and the instinctual need for migration in their life cycle.

What are some key migratory bird species and their migration routes?

Learn about notable migratory bird species and the fascinating routes they take, offering insights into the diversity of migration patterns.

How do migratory birds contribute to ecosystem balance and biodiversity

Understand the crucial role migratory birds play in maintaining ecological balance, seed dispersal, and contributing to overall biodiversity.

What conservation efforts are in place to protect migratory bird populations?

Explore initiatives and measures aimed at preserving migratory bird habitats, addressing threats, and ensuring the continued well-being of these magnificent creatures.