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Autumn: the time of epic migrations

World Bird Migratory Flyways

Autumn migratory season is upon us! Depending on where you are (in the northern hemisphere), you may see birds departing their summer breeding grounds from anywhere between late July to early October and arriving at their wintering grounds. 

This biannual, large-scale movement of birds signifies the change of seasons and thus the change in availability of food sources and desirable climatic conditions. Migration behaviours occur in a perhaps surprising proportion of bird species. Of the more than 650 North American birds, more than half of them are migratory. 

Long distance migrants can travel vast distances, from Canada or the US to Central or South America. Incredibly, these kinds of journeys are done by around 350 North American species!

But not all birds make these arduous and dangerous cross-continental journeys. Many species are either short-distance migrants – who may be moving between elevations, while others are medium-distance migrants and will only travel a few hundred miles. 

So where can you see these birds on their epic journeys? Finding your local hotspot for migratory birds will be key. Peninsulas or barrier islands, lakes, marshes and rivers would be great places to start. Especially if you’re hoping to catch some shorebird sightings before they set off to their warmer wintering grounds. 

Finding out the major congregation points would be the next step for some serious migration season bird watching. For North American birders, the southern coasts of the US will be the places to see birds before they cross the Gulf of Mexico. 

Knowing when the peak season for bird departures and arrivals in your local area is can bring some excitement to your upcoming birding outings. Regional migratory forecasts – like this one for the US – may be available to support you.  

If you live near a known migratory pathway, you can help birds find their way by turning off your lights at night. Light pollution is harmful as it confuses nocturnally navigating birds. You can otherwise sit back and enjoy whoever flies into your yard, maybe enjoying your topped-up bird feeder and waterer for any needy nomads!