Migration is seasonal movement from one region to another. Migratory birds are birds that need to move to a different region for survival.

Birds migrate south in the fall because their access to food in Calgary is limited by the low temperatures (no berries, no insects, no flowing water). They migrate back north because spring and summer offer lots of food sources. They also have access to a larger territory to build a nest and raise their young without getting in conflict with the other birds.

Click on each section below to learn more about birds and migration.

Do all birds migrate?

​​No. There are different types of migration. Some birds have special adaptations that help them survive the cold winters so they don’t have to migrate.

Partial Migration: Only some of the population of the same species migrates. The rest stay where they are.
Differential migration: The younger population migrate further than the older population within the same bird species.
Interruptive Migration: Some or all migrate some years, and other years choose not to migrate.

Fun Fact: Birds aren’t the only ones to have migratory patterns. Many species of wildlife will move to ensure there are enough food sources and they can keep warm during the winter.

How do they know where they're going?

​​Migratory birds travel over oceans and continents without a map or compass. But how do they do it? Sights, sounds, smells?

Birds can navigate with amazing accuracy, some returning to the same spot every year. Migratory birds use the stars, sun, wind patterns and natural bird instinct.

Experiments have shown birds have "magnetoreception" vision. This helps them see magnetic fields and know which direction they are going because they can sense those fields (how's that for a superpower?).​

Fun Fact: Have you ever seen Canada Geese flying in a V shape in Calgary? This helps them be more aerodynamic, saving energy so they can fly longer as they migrate. This formation also helps with wind resistance.​

How far do birds migrate?

Some birds migrate for weeks, while others migrate for months. It depends on the size of the bird, species and the distance they must travel to find their food source. Migratory birds have regions they migrate to for breeding, and regions they call home.​

How does a migratory bird know when to come back?

Birds have natural animal instincts. They can sense when it’s getting colder or warmer.​

Examples of migratory birds

American Robin

The American Robin is a sure sign of spring, migrating back to Canada each year. With its beautiful bright orange feathers and cheery song, this is a bird we love to see in Calgary. Robins have a sweet tooth and will look for fruits and berries.

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallows are small birds that call Calgary’s wetlands home. Making its nests out of mud and spit balls, this bird eats mosquitos. The food it eats is dependent on warmer weather.

The cliff swallow must migrate. Without a water source, mosquitoes wouldn't be present for the cliff swallow to eat. Their nests also cannot withstand harsh Calgary winters because they are made of mud.

How we can help Calgary birds

Migratory birds might end up in your own backyard after a long journey. Here are things you can do to help:

  • Leave out a bowl of water. Birds fly a very long distance and are often hungry for food and thirsty for water. Making water available helps our bird friends regain strength. Remember to clean and replace water in the bowl frequently.
  • Choose high quality seed mix for your bird feeder. High quality seed mix (like black oil sunflower seeds or sunflower chips) prevents the feeder from attracting unwanted visitors such as mice. Please do not feed birds bread or other processed foods! Bread can harm birds’ digestive systems and make them very sick.
  • Leave natural materials in your yard. Birds will start nesting right away, so leave any natural materials in your yard such as twigs, grass, string and even pet hair! These items are perfect to build a nest where birds can rest and lay their eggs.
  • Hang things in your windows. Birds can’t see through glass windows like us humans can. They see the reflection in a window and often think they can fly right through a building. Sometimes birds fly into windows. Hanging things in our windows show birds that it’s a no fly zone.

Activities to help you learn about birds and migration