do all birds fly south

Deciding to stick around in the chilly weather is more about food than temperature, says a Tufts professor of biology

Whether or not a bird flies south for the winter depends a lot on what food the species eats. During our winters, many food sources, such as flying insects and nectar, are not available. Species that depend on these food sources must fly south to survive.

Species that eat certain types of seeds, or that probe for insects and spiders under tree bark, can often find enough food to spend the winter here.

Amazingly, if a bird can get enough food, it apparently can survive even the worst weather in New England—this is true even for small birds such as chickadees. Feathers make excellent insulation, as anyone who owns a down coat knows, and birds convert food to body heat.

Some of the bird species that winter over in New England, such as cardinals, have done so only in recent decades. If you look at a bird species list for Massachusetts from the 1920s, you will see cardinals listed as uncommon visitors, and mockingbirds are present in winter only along the coast.

These species seem to have reacted to changes in the environment caused by humans. For cardinals, this might include the widespread presence of bird feeders, providing food in winter and allowing cardinals to expand their range into New England and become year-round residents.

Mockingbirds also have expanded their range, partly because of human alteration of the landscape. Mockingbirds rely on berries in the winter, and plants that provide them have become more abundant, including some exotic invasive species.

Have You Ever Wondered…

  • Do all birds fly south in the winter?
  • Why do birds migrate?
  • What types of seeds do birds like to eat?

The Wonder of the Day for today was motivated by Bryce from Shawano, Wisconsin. We appreciate your curiosity, Bryce! “Why do birds fly south for the winter?”

Despite the widespread belief that the majority of birds migrate south during the winter, many of our feathered companions remain visible throughout the coldest months of the year. One factor primarily determines whether a certain kind of bird migrates south for the winter: the kind of food it consumes.

Certain common bird foods, like nectar and insects, might not be available all year round in places with cold winters. In order to survive, birds that consume those foods must fly south to find food. Since they can continue to find food throughout the winter, other birds that feed on seeds or insects that live under tree bark frequently hang around.

While some birds migrate naturally at certain times of the year, scientists think that without certain environmental cues, birds won’t fly south because of a lack of food. Some birds will postpone or stop migrating as long as food is available.

In fact, according to some experts, the widespread use of bird feeders may enable certain bird species to become year-round residents and cease their migration.

The National Bird-Feeding Society sponsors National Bird-Feeding Month every February. Why February? It’s one of the hardest months for wild birds to survive in the United States.

The society asks people to give food, water, and shelter to wild birds in February in order to help them survive.

There are always birds that you can feed wherever you live. Many families now know that feeding birds in the backyard can be an inexpensive, entertaining, and educational pastime.

Adults find watching birds to be relaxing and peaceful. Children like to learn about the various kinds of birds and their diets.

You can feed wild birds in your backyard by simply mounting a simple feeder outside a window and adding birdseed mixture to it. The nine main types of seeds that are commonly found in bird seed blends are cracked corn, black-oil sunflower, safflower, red milo, striped sunflower, thistle, white proso millet, and whole peanuts.

Of course, you can always experiment with different types of seed and add more feeders as you get more knowledge about the birds in your area to try to draw new birds to your yard.

Bird-feeding is the second most popular hobby in the United States, after gardening, with over 55 million adults feeding birds around their homes.

You’ll quickly discover that feeding birds isn’t only for the birds if you give it a try. By bringing the most breathtaking sights and sounds of nature into your backyard, your family also gains.

We’d like to thank:

Himansi for contributing questions about today’s Wonder topic!

Keep WONDERing with us!

Did you get it?

*Yawn* We’re taking a quick nap ahead of tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day, so please be patient.

When you’re prepared to feed the birds, make sure you and a friend or family member participate in the following activities:

  • Bird feeding doesnt have to be an expensive hobby. Our beautiful feathered friends, from finches to falcons, prefer food in feeders over self-scavenging. To find some inexpensive and enjoyable ideas to make your own backyard bird feeders, click on the following links: Paper Cup Bird Feeder Craft, How to Make a Cereal Bird Feeder, Plastic Jug Bird Feeder Craft.
  • Isn’t it cool to be able to take part of a tree and recycle it into a feeder that will please the birds in your backyard? If you need a little more help, head online and watch a video that shows you how to make a pine cone bird feeder.
  • Provide a source of water for your feathered friends to drink and take baths in if you truly want to do them a favor. A bird bath is available at your neighborhood hardware store. Alternatively, you can make your own DIY Birdbath at home. Have fun being crafty!.

According to a biology professor at Tufts, food is a more important factor in deciding whether or not to stay in the cold.

Mockingbirds have also spread out, in part due to changes made to the environment by humans. Because berries are a wintertime staple for mockingbirds, more plants, including some invasive exotic species, are producing them.

These animals appear to have responded to alterations in their surroundings brought about by people. This may include the widespread installation of bird feeders, which give cardinals access to food during the winter and enable them to spread out across New England and establish year-round residence.

It seems that a bird can withstand even the worst weather in New England if it has enough food, and this is true even for small birds like chickadees. As anyone who owns a down coat knows, feathers make excellent insulation, and birds use their feathers to convert food into body heat.

A bird’s decision to fly south for the winter is largely influenced by the food that its species consumes. Many of our food sources, like nectar and flying insects, are unavailable during our winters. In order to survive, species that rely on these food sources must fly south.


What birds do not fly south?

Which birds do not migrate? The list of non-migrating birds includes some specific, well-known species – Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals – and also includes large groups of birds including black birds, chickadees, doves, finches, nuthatches, sparrows and woodpeckers.

Why don’t all birds fly south for the winter?

Whether or not a bird flies south for the winter depends a lot on what food the species eats. During our winters, many food sources, such as flying insects and nectar, are not available. Species that depend on these food sources must fly south to survive.

Where do birds go when they fly south for the winter?

Long-distance migrants typically move from breeding ranges in the United States and Canada to wintering grounds in Central and South America. Despite the arduous journeys involved, long-distance migration is a feature of some 350 species of North American birds.

What percentage of birds fly south?

Most of us are taught from a young age that birds “fly south for the winter,” and although that is technically true, it is a gross oversimplification of an incredibly complex process. In North America alone, there are around 900 species of birds, an estimated 75 percent of which migrate.