January 20, 2020
Migratory birds
Travel to live
Birds (Photo 0)

Intuitive traveling. Travel to survive. Travel to live. What sounds like absolute freedom, modern nomadism or a welcome escape from cold winters to us, is tremendously vital to them: Migratory birds. Following both the constellation of stars, the sun and their largely unexplored ability of sensing and navigating through the earth’s magnetic field, thousands of birds move southwards to spend the winter and find nurture every year. Instinctively they know when to take off, where to go and how long to stay – traveling to survive.

Birds (Photo 1)
Photo: Gary Bendig

Continental and long-haul flights

About half of all indigenous mid-european birds are migratory. At about 70% heading towards Africa and only about one third staying in southern european fields, the majority takes intercontinental long-distance routes. As they travel around 4000-8000 km one way, constant conservation of energy and efficient use of physical and environmental conditions is mandatory. Small birds with narrow wing-spans that are unable to glide, move in atmospheric layers with a tail wind. Bigger species like storks, cranes and wild geese utilize thermal effects of upwinds to attain altitude and then slowly glide downwards to catch the next updraft. This method of upwinding and descending takes the stork only 10% of the energy they require when flapping. To aid and support weaker comrades, migrants build V-shaped formations – giving those in the back a lift.
As they fly at an average height of 1000-2500m, long-distance travelers cover about 45 miles per hour. To successfully escape the European winter, they start off from August and return to their breeding habitat in April.

Birds (Photo 2)
Trip route taken by a Swedish stork

Conspecifics migrating on short haul trips to Spain and France, like wagtails and cormorants, relocate more spontaneously - taking account of and adapting to climatic conditions. Setting out considerably later during mild winters, these birds return with the first warm occidental airstreams of spring.

Operating global

The vertical route network of birds migrating to warmer fields is a phenomenon that can be experienced all around the world. Those domiciled in Eurasia travel to Africa, Asian types head for the pacific region and U.S. residents winter in Latin America.

Speaking of global operators…

The frequent traveler might have noticed: The Lufthansa signature symbol displays a crane’s outline/silhouette. Supporting crane protection since the 1980s, the company has just renewed their engagement with „Kranichschutz Deutschland gGmbh“, a NABU initiative in February.

Title Image: Barth Bailey