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Heading south is for the birds


Photo by lee roberts licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

There are about forty-nine families of Canadian birds that fly long distances to escape the snow of the long, cold winter months - much like you’d love to do in March when you’ve had to wear your snowsuit, mitts, scarves, hats and boots for 5 months or more. But why do they migrate, how do they prepare and why can you still see birds wandering around on the snow in the middle of January?

1) Fair weather fowl

Birds don’t need much – lots of food and a safe place to nest and lay their eggs. So when the weather gets cold, some birds pack their bags and head for the warm sunshine where food and shelter are easier to find.

Ducks in the air

Photo by Mary Shattock licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

2) How do they know when to go?

It’s a kind of birdie checklist. When the daylight hours start to get shorter in the fall, the temperature starts to drop. This lets the birds know that they need to start eating a lot more to build up the fat they will need to fuel the long flight down south.

Loons on a lake

Photo by Steve Wall licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

3) Getting there

They don’t use maps, but birds have other ways of figuring out where they’re going. Some use the sun and stars for navigation, others use landmarks like rivers or mountains, while the superheroes of the bird world use an extra sense that allows them to follow the magnetic fields surrounding the earth!

Herons sitting on their nest

Photo by Kim Seng licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

4) It’s still hard work

Knowing when to go and how to get there aren’t the only problems that birds have to overcome. Once our feathered friends start on their journey they may have to deal with late or early winter storms, a lack of food, exhaustion and predators that might attack while the birds are tired.


Photo by Susanne Nilsson licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

5) Some birds are just lazy

Even though a lot of birds fly south for the winter there are still some who don’t mind sticking around for the cold and the snow.  As long as there is enough food to eat, then it just doesn’t make sense for them to risk the long trip.

Canada geese standing on the snow

Photo by Alec Couros licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0