Why do birds migrate and why animals hibernate?

Migratory birds in Germany

In winter, food for many birds in Germany becomes scarce. So they move south to avoid starvation. They cover distances of different lengths and hibernate in different places.

Long-distance migrant

Among our birds, for example, the nightingale, stork, swift, barn swallow and house martin are real endurance artists. As long-distance migrants, they fly particularly far south and cover several thousand kilometers on the way to Africa. In spring they therefore come back to Germany later than many other species.

The white storks, which cover more than 10,000 kilometers, need two to four months for this. Therefore, they are already on the road in late summer / autumn. These frequent fliers set off for Tanzania or South Africa, for example, as early as the end of August.

Short-haul migrants

Song thrush and mistletoe, starling, skylark, lapwing, crane, wagtail and redstart spend their winters in southern Europe and the Mediterranean area. In spring they come back faster than the Africa hikers. You can rediscover the first of them as early as the end of February. Even if they only fly to Spain, for example, they cover several hundred kilometers.

If the winter is particularly mild or warm, the cranes sometimes stay in Germany for a long time. But when they take off, it usually looks very impressive. They gather at their meeting points in October and November and then fly off together in huge V formations. In a village near Stralsund in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, up to 70,000 cranes sometimes meet on their journey together.

Partial puller

There are also bird species that do not migrate completely to the south, but only partially. Some of the robins, blackbirds, chaffinches, wren and wood pigeons prefer to stay here when their conspecifics head south.

Most of the birds found in Germany belong to this group. In the case of chaffinches, for example, the turn of the year does not go off without the pain of separation: the females move to the south, while the males stay in the cooler north.

Line birds

A number of species of ducks, tits and finches are not real migratory birds, but migrate to slightly warmer regions in winter as well. However, only when the weather makes it necessary. In extreme cold they "brush" away from the bad weather and return more quickly when it gets warmer again.

Resident birds

Numerous species of titmouse, woodpecker, treecreeper and sparrow feel most comfortable at home. They do not move south and are, compared to other bird species, real wanderers, resident birds.

How do the birds orient themselves on their journey?

People have been puzzling over this for centuries. The most popular theory: migratory birds use the earth's magnetic field as a point of orientation. The birds seem to have a magnetic sense that serves as an "eye" for them. In addition, many birds remember the places where they have their nests or breeding grounds. Even after the flight from one continent to another, the barn swallow regularly finds its original nesting place in spring. A wonder of nature!

Good to know

Since 2006, the “World Migratory Bird Day” campaign has been held every year on the second weekend in May. The day always follows a certain motto, which is intended to draw attention to the migratory birds. Since 2017, Migratory Birds Day has also been celebrated on the second weekend in October and thus twice a year - including the return flight in autumn: The last World Migratory Bird Day was on October 13th and 14th, 2018 and next spring's World Migratory Bird Day takes place on the weekend of November 11th . and 12 May 2019.