Whether we notice it or not, all wildlife prepares for fall and winter in its own way. Squirrels busy themselves collecting nuts, rodents look for shelter, and skunks build burrows. Even bugs spend fall figuring out how they’re going to survive winter. While we’re all figuring out how to prepare for winter, however, some birds decide to escape from it instead.

Every fall, thousands of bird species fly hundreds or even thousands of miles to get away from the winter blues. Then, when spring comes, they fly all that distance back. Why do that do that? HOW do they do that?! Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the amazing journey birds take every year. You’ll never look at the birds in your backyard the same way again!

Why do birds migrate?

The bird species that migrate generally do so twice a year: once in spring, and once in fall. You’re probably familiar with the idea that birds migrate to avoid cold winter temperatures. While that’s true, it’s only part of the full story. Many migratory birds, such as hummingbirds, can actually survive in freezing temperatures. The problem is, the food they eat usually can’t. In both fall and spring, birds migrate to areas where they can most effectively get the resources they need.

In fall, birds migrate because the insects, seeds and nuts, or nectar they feed on becomes scarce. They fly south to warmer areas where vegetation and insects aren’t in winter decline. In spring, birds start thinking about nesting. Raising offspring is resource and time-intensive (just like it is for us!). If every bird stayed down south to nest, competition for food would be too fierce. Instead, migratory birds return north to places where they know they’ll be able to nest successfully.

When does migration happen?

The exact timing of migration varies and depends on several factors. An early frost or late spring will alter many birds’ migration schedules, but that’s not all there is to it. Different species migrate to different areas in both spring and fall. Those species also migrate at different times to make sure they arrive at their destinations in peak season. Birds that travel further tend to get started earlier than birds that don’t fly as far away.

In general, birds stick around as long as they’re sure they can get the resources they need. The moment they aren’t sure, birds will begin migrating. As for how or why birds decide exactly when it’s time… we aren’t totally sure! Scientists don’t fully understand the mechanics of how birds decide when to migrate. One theory suggests that birds sense *something* about their environment that tells them it’s time to get moving. This “something” could have to do with temperature, changes in light, food availability, or some combination of many factors.

How do birds know where to migrate?

Did you know that many migratory birds always take exactly the same route to and from their destinations? Or that some migratory birds actually return to the exact same place year after year? Migratory birds possess astounding navigational “homing” abilities that allow them to travel hundreds of miles without getting lost. The full extent of bird’s navigational abilities is still not fully understood. What do seem clear, however, is that birds apply many different “tools” in conjunction when they’re navigating.

Many birds use the sun as a fixed point to keep flying in the same direction. Bird eyes are sensitive to the ultraviolet rays sunlight produces, which are visible even during cloudy days and at night. Some birds can actually sense the earth’s magnetic fields. Many species of migratory birds possess magnetite-based receptors in their beaks. These receptors help the bird intuit true north so they can stay on the right heading. There’s even some evidence that sense of smell may help homing pigeons find where they’re going.

Which birds migrate?

Contrary to popular belief, not all birds migrate, even in climates with very cold winters. There are about 4,000 species of regular migrating birds in the world. Many of these birds only migrate short distances, while others can fly thousands of miles. Swallows, for instance, breed in Europe and overwinter in Africa! Unsurprisingly, migration is most common among birds that spend spring and summer in the far north.

There are 350 migratory bird species in North America. Birds like geese, swallows, wood thrushes, hummingbirds breed in North America and overwinter in Central and South America. Birds like house and barn sparrows and starlings breed in Canada and overwinter in the northern or central US. Some common birds, like crows, doves, pigeons, and cardinals, don’t migrate at all. Other common birds like the American robin sometimes migrate and sometimes stick around. Don’t worry: leaving your bird feeder out won’t keep birds from migrating when they need to. In fact, migrators might appreciate the snack!

Bird migration happens every year like clockwork, but that doesn’t mean it’s never interrupted. If birds end up in an environment where they don’t belong, it could disrupt all kinds of natural processes. That disruption is bad for the bird, its offspring, and the environment the bird is a part of. If that environment is your home, it’ll be bad for you, too!

Some male songbirds sing more than 2000 times each day.

The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.

The bones of a pigeon weigh less than its feathers.

The fastest bird is the Spine-tailed swift, clocked at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour.

The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backwards.

Owls have eyeballs that are tubular in shape, because of this, they cannot move their eyes.

A woodpecker can peck twenty times a second.

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds – so tiny that one of their enemies is an insect, the praying mantis.

It may take longer than two days for a chick to break out of its shell.

The hummingbird’s brain, 4.2 percent of its body weight, is proportionately the largest among birds.

Flamingos are not naturally pink. They get their color from their food — tiny green algae that turn pink during digestion.

An albatross can sleep while it flies. It apparently dozes while cruising at 25 mph.

The owl can catch a mouse in utter darkness, guided only by tiny sounds made by its prey.

A seagull can drink salt water because it has special glands that filter out the salt.

Penguins can jump as high as 6 feet in the air.

A chicken with red earlobes will produce brown eggs, and a chicken with white earlobes will produce white eggs.

The hummingbird, the loon, the swift, the kingfisher, and the grebe are all birds that cannot walk.

A duck’s quack doesn’t echo anywhere, and no one knows why.

Emus can’t walk backwards.

Chickens can’t swallow while they are upside down.

Roosters can’t crow if they can’t fully extend their necks.

The most yolks ever found in a single chicken’s egg is nine.

The egg of the hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird’s egg; the egg of the ostrich, the world’s largest.

The now-extinct elephant bird of Madagascar laid an egg that weighed 12 kilograms.

Air sacs may make up 1/5 of the body volume of a bird.

Birds don’t sweat.

A bird’s heart beats 400 times per minute while resting and up to 1000 beats per minute while flying.

Hummingbirds eat about every ten minutes, slurping down twice their body weight in nectar every day.

The only known poisonous bird in the world is the hooded pitohui of Papua, New Guinea. The poison is found in its skin and feathers.

The common loon can dive more than 76 metres below the water’s surface.

A malleefowl lays eggs in a nest full of rotting vegetation. The decay gives off heat to keep the eggs warm; the male bird checks the temperature often and adjusts the pile as necessary.

Weaver Bird dads spend the majority of their lives building nests to impress females. However, if the female is not immediately impressed by his handiwork, the male takes offense and chases his potential mate off.

Emus run after rain clouds, hoping for water.

The stunning scarlet macaw eats clay from riverside deposits, which may help it process toxic seeds it consumes.

A male sand grouse soaks himself in water, then flies back to the nest so his chicks can drink from his feathers.

In its journey from the Arctic to Antarctica and back, the Arctic Tern covers a distance of 32 000 km, which makes it the farthest traveling migratory bird in the world.

Ostriches eyes are larger than their brains.

The hummingbird can hover and fly straight up, down, or backward.

Mockingbirds can imitate sounds of other birds.

Puffins fly underwater.

Puffins have teeth that point backwards inside their beak.

Mum and Dad puffins rub their beaks together to show affection – this is called ‘billing’.

Puffins can stand on their tippy toes.

Puffins can flap their wings 300 to 400 times a minute.

Penguins sleep floating on the ocean.

Emperor penguins are the largest penguin – they are 115cm tall.

Emperor penguins breed in colonies scattered around the Antarctic continent. Colonies can have as many as 40 000 penguins.

Emperor penguins huddle tightly together and share body warmth during the fierce winter storms.

Male emperor penguins carry their egg on their feet and don’t eat for 4 months while they look after the egg.

Arctic terns don’t swim well even though their feet are webbed, because they have small feet so they swoop down, catch the fish, and keep flying to stay out of the water.

Arctic terns hardly ever land. So they eat while flying most of the time. When terns eat insects they catch them “on the wing”. This means they catch them while flying.

Just before Arctic terns begin their long journey, the entire colony of birds become silent – this is called a dread.
Snowy owls can almost turn their head in a complete circle.

It’s no surprise that many potential bird owners want a bird who is friendly, gentle, and well-suited to being a companion pet. These traits are even more important for anyone with little or no experience caring for pet birds. It’s easier to bond with and care for an animal who has a natural disposition for being friendly and affectionate than one who is frightful and aggressive.

It’s almost a guarantee that all bird owners will sustain a bite here and there. However, it is possible to minimize the risk by choosing a species known for having a gentle and sociable demeanor. These birds have a reputation for being some of the most loving and friendly companions around.

One of the most popular pet bird species in the world are budgies, which you may know as parakeets. When properly tamed and cared for, budgies make extraordinarily friendly and affectionate pets.

On top of being small and easy to care for, budgies take well to training and can learn to perform many fun bird tricks. Best of all, budgies have the ability to learn to talk. They delight people of all ages with their cute and comical little voices.

The beautiful and captivating cockatiel is another great choice for anyone looking for a friendly and affectionate pet bird. Hailing from Australia, these birds make excellent pets when hand-fed as babies and raised in loving environments.

While they don’t normally learn to talk, cockatiels are exceptionally intelligent. Many learn to mimic common household noises such as doorbells, telephones, and microwaves.

Being rather small, they don’t require as much space as larger parrots. Therefore, they’re easier to house and care for than many other hookbill species.

If you prefer large birds but still want a pet that will be friendly, loving, and affectionate, a cockatoo may be your best bet. These beautiful, yet noisy birds bond very strongly to their owners and prefer to be with them all of the time, if possible.

It is imperative that you make sure that you have plenty of free time to spend socializing with your bird. Cockatoos can become depressed if they aren’t given enough attention. They may resort to plucking or other destructive behavior as a result.

Parrotlets have enjoyed a great surge in popularity as pets around the world. Cute, tiny, and easy to take care of, these little birds are known for having personalities that are much larger than their tiny bodies.

Those who consider a pet parrotlet must have plenty of time on their hands to play and socialize with their birds so they remain tame. However, for the right owners, parrotlets make extremely loving pets.

Hyacinth macaws are the largest parrots on Earth. They are not very easy to come by and they are pricey. It may come as a surprise to some that these birds are also known as “gentle giants.” Known for their friendly and sociable personalities, they love nothing more than to spend time playing and cuddling with their owners. 

Due to their incredible size, it can be difficult for most people to provide proper housing for these birds. However, those who are able to meet their needs are always rewarded with an incredible relationship with their feathered friend.

If you are interested in learning more about what it takes to care for a hyacinth macaw, contact a breeder near you. Try to schedule an appointment to meet with them and their birds so you can get a feel if it would be a good bird for you.

Bird-friendly plants

The best feeding programme for birds is to plant shrubs and trees which offer nature’s menu. Aloes, watsonias, lion’s ear (Leonotis spp.), red-hot pokers ( spp.) and wachendorfias will attract nectar feeding birds such as the sunbird. Seed eating birds are attracted to the seed heads of grasses and grains.  Plant patches of mixed bird seed and you’ll be fascinated to see the response from local birds. Seed eaters also thrive the seeds of ordinary daisies (such as the euryops daisy). Leave the dried out dead heads of daisies for as long as you can to give the birds time to take most of the seed at the end of summer.To attract fruit eating birds, such as the loeries, plant fruit producing plants. Try the tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida), dune crow-berry (Rhus crenata) or white stinkwood (Celtis africana).Did you know that the local weavers, sparrows, loeries, sunbirds and even crested barbets will flock to your garden if you discover how to plant up bird-friendly plants or install a nesting box, bird feeder or bird bath in your garden. This is a basic guide on how to attract birds to your garden:

Roosting sites

Established trees will naturally provide a source of shelter and roosting spots for many birds and a garden which is well planted with indigenous trees will attract numerous birds throughout the year. Good roosting sites are provided by the Henkel’s yellowwood (Podocarpus henkelii), fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea), karee (Searsia lancea), sweet thorn (Acacia karroo) or buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata. Creepers such as the black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia elata) can be draped around the branches of trees to provide a secluded nesting site for robins or flycatchers. Grasses, including reeds and bulrushes are valuable suppliers of nesting material to weavers who suspend their nests from trees.


Mulch and compost

Leave fallen leaves and logs in the garden as these will provide micro-habitat for various insects, grubs and worms, which will in turn attract insect feeders such as Cape robin-chats, Karoo and olive thrushes as well as African hoopoes. These birds love the dense undergrowth of gardens where they turn over leaves and debris in search of grubs. Dead logs and tree trunks make ideal nesting spots for birds such as barbets and woodpeckers.

Water for birds

Every garden should have a bird bath in the quieter part of the garden preferably near thick foliage and established trees, so that the birds can perch nearby and not feel exposed. Avoid placing a bird bath directly underneath tree branches, as falling leaves and bird droppings may soil the water. Keep the bird bath topped up over winter, as many birds will frequently visit to drink and bath. Bird baths come in various shapes and sizes, but most importantly, they should be anchored securely so that they don’t topple over.


Bird Bath

Feed the


Feeding stations for garden birds come in a range of shapes and sizes. A common variety is the seed-dispersing tube type feeder whereby you place bird seed on top by removing a cap. A feeding plate attaches to the bottom and this will hold the seeds which are gravity fed. As the birds feed, the seeds will filter down and spread over the plate. These are often equipped with small perches, allowing only small birds such as finches and sparrows to feed, but making it difficult for large seed eaters such as doves and pigeons to perch and feed, which would otherwise rapidly finish off the bird seed.

These feeders can be hung from a tree branch. Other bird feeders include platforms where bread, seed, fruit and suet and can placed. They often have spikes where fruit can be anchored for fruit eating birds. These bird feeders can be placed on top of a sturdy pole or hung from a tree branch. For the really dedicated, consider breeding your own mealworm colony, which will provide a delicious treat for grub feeding birds.


Nesting boxes

Hollowed out logs, available from garden centres, are a favourite with barbets who use them for breeding. Anchor the logs vertically on tree trunks several metres off the ground. Traditional square or rectangular box nests are also available and can be anchored securely around various parts of the garden.