More than 100 million of birds on their journey to the south
Every fall, more than 100 million birds head to southern Europe and Africa. They journey not to evade the harsh winter but primarily in pursuit of accessible food.
While sources of food abound in the spring, making the northern climes ideal for raising their young, sub-zero temperatures, snow and shorter days in winter render their search for nourishment much more difficult. Migratory birds are therefore almost genetically predisposed to fly off to warmer climes.
All birds have an innate migratory pattern specific to their species: they are guided by their senses. In central Europe, peak migration season is in early October. Many more birds can be seen during the fall migration than during the spring migration. In the fall, countless young birds join the older birds, which is why twice as many birds migrate after breeding season in the summer.
The birds have a natural sense of direction – and as such, no need for a compass or a map: each species has been found to have a migratory instinct.
Each year, the long-distance migrants begin their journey at the same time each year, flying even further afield than the Sahara. Conversely, short-distance migrants only journey as far as western Europe or the Mediterranean, where winter sunshine is theirs for the taking. They are experts at adapting their flight times to prevailing weather conditions.
All other bird species that can be observed over the course of the year are termed resident birds. Many of them are partial migrants, and some populations residing in cold regions to the north or east of Germany travel south- or westwards.
No need for GPS: birds have a biological compass
The birds have a natural sense of direction – and as such, no need for a compass or a map: each species has been found to have a migratory instinct. Departure period, direction and distance are qualities that most bird species inherit.
When migrating, they use the sun to navigate on a clear day, and the stars as their guides during nighttime flight. Their innate sense of direction shows them the way in bad weather – especially when traveling short distances.
Regular breaks and “fuel stops” make for a smooth migration
Birds require an enormous amount of energy to migrate. This is particularly true for species that must cross large bodies of water or deserts; it’s essential that they have enough fat stores. This innate behavior is also known as migratory fat deposition, which is what enables bird species to be guided by their body clock during migration.
Depending on the species, successful migration hinges on the stopovers made during the long journey; the birds need these breaks in order to recharge their batteries.
BirdLife International raises awareness for poaching and teams up with national associations to organize campaigns against illegal killing of migratory birds in Mediterranean countries.
Dangers en route
The long and tiring journey across many countries comes with its own set of dangers – that said, the majority of them are man-made. As a result, many large birds perish by getting caught in power cables and poorly insulated power masts. The conditions at the stopovers and hibernation areas determine whether or not the birds make it to their final destinations. Climate change can also result in an imbalance in the migration patterns of the birds, meaning they arrive too late in breeding areas and are thus unable to find sufficient nourishment.
As migratory animals, birds rely on a special kind of protection: A major problem, especially in the Mediterranean, is poaching, whereby birds are trapped using firearms, nets or lime stick traps. In Malta, large birds such as honey buzzards and ospreys are illegally poached, and on Cyprus small birds are caught using nets and sold as a delicacy. It is horrifying how much the population has dwindled: 700 km of Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline is covered in nets, and every fall some 140 million birds are caught. Statistically speaking, one in seven European migratory birds thus gets tangled up in an Egyptian net while journeying to Africa.
BirdLife International raises awareness for poaching and teams up with national associations to organize campaigns against illegal killing in Mediterranean countries. The organization also designates Important Bird Areas (IBA), i.e. areas crucial to the birds’ survival during their migration.