Why Do Some Birds Fly South for the Winter and Some Do Not?


In Northern parts of the United States, birds that are usually seen alone or in small groups during summer will begin to flock together and prepare for their annual migration going south before the leaves start to fall. Waterfowls will gather together and will form a V pattern in the sky as they fly to a place with a warmer climate. American robins, on the other hand, will vanish and they will not return until spring. The migration of these birds is a sign that a long cold winter is coming.

Bird Migration

Though a lot of birds migrate south, there are still some birds that stay during the cold and snowy winter. In fact, there are species of birds that are more abundant during the winter season. Why do you think other birds fly south while others stay during winter? Where do they go and what do they do when they migrate? If you’re also wondering about these things, then read on and let’s all find out.

Why Do Birds Fly South?

One of the most logical reasons on why birds migrate to southern locations during winter can be because it’s warmer there. However, this is not exactly the reason why because birds can certainly survive harsh winters. Their primary reason for flying south is food, just like most migratory animals.

During summer in northern climates, insects are active and plants and trees are flouring which are the reasons why there are lots of foods there for the birds to eat. Birds stay in places where they can get the best foods for themselves and for their chicks. During winter, it’s difficult to find food that’s why they migrate to warmer climates where there are plenty of foods.

Birds Migrating

Birds like the American robins eat worms, beetles, grubs, and other similar insects. These insects are difficult or impossible to find in the cold snow, therefore, they need to fly south to prevent starvation. Ducks, geese, and waterfowls, on the other hand, find it extremely difficult to survive in their intended environment because lakes and ponds tend to freeze during winter. To be able to find food, maintain their health, and escape predation, they migrate to warmer climates. If you’re wondering why they fly in a V pattern, it is to conserve energy and to improve communication between them.

If food is the main reason why birds migrate, how do they know when it’s the right time to go? Based on some scientists, birds likely have an innate response to the reduction in daylight hours. This signals them that winter is coming and they better get moving.

Where Do Birds Go When They Fly South?

Another question is where are these birds going, and how do they know where they are going? Most of the migrating birds go to Mexico and Florida, hibernating in tropical climates, and some just need climates where there are lots of foods that can sustain them. They know where they are going because birds seem to have innate knowledge that helps them negotiate their migration. They navigate by the sun during the daytime and by the moon and stars at night.

Based on some research, birds are aware of magnetic fields in the earth which also helps them find their way, just like an internal GPS. You might also wonder why these migratory birds come back to their breeding grounds. Well, it is hardwired to their systems that when daylight hours begin to lengthen, it’s time for them to go back.  

Why Do Some Birds Stay Through the Winter?

Now that we know why some birds fly south for the winter and where they go, the next question to answer is why do some birds stay through the winter? Some of the birds that do not migrate are the black-capped chickadee, blue jay, northern cardinal, and others that can brave the cold and snowy winter. But it is stated earlier that any species of bird can survive the winter season, therefore, it’s not bravery that makes others stay through the winter.

The reason why some birds stay through the winter is the same as the reason why some migrate, because of food or their diet. There are some birds that do not need much food and they can survive with just the insects they forage in the bark of trees. In fact, there are some species of birds that become more plentiful during the winter season such as the dark-eyed junco. They inhabit the areas that other birds vacated.

If birds can find enough food to feed them during the winter season, they will not migrate to other places. Meaning, those birds that stay through the winter have the abilities to find enough food to survive.

Birds are amazing animals because they are able to fly miles when they migrate just to find food to survive. Now you know why some birds fly south and some stay during the winter season.

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