Aside from the common knowledge that birds fly south for the winter, how much do we actually know about what goes on during huge migrations? As a child, I used to always get chills down my spine watching massive v-shaped formations of birds heading South as the weather got colder. How do they know where they are supposed to go? What kinds of things do they have to look out for during a massive migration to warmer climates? Have migrations ever changed due to the Earth’s weather patterns changing? Lets dive in from the very basics.
First off, there are three different ways in which birds can maintain a sense of direction during a migration. In some birds’ nostrils, there is a substance called magnetite. This allows them to use the Earth’s magnetic field to guide their path. Other species use the Earth’s landscape- such as coastlines and mountains- to navigate. There are even a few birds out there who are able to use the positioning of the sun and the stars to figure out where they are! Most species tend to have one solid method for guiding their migrations, but others may use a mix of all three methods to ensure they are ending up in the right place. So much for us calling them bird brains.
In regards to the Earth’s climate changing, there is actually a mix of responses to how migration patterns are affected. While some species have do in fact exhibit some change to their normal flight patterns, there are others who have actually shown no change at all. It comes down to the individual species and how keen are they to being able to adapt to changes.