Birds begin to take off

  • Pink-footed geese migrating south for the winter. Photo: Andrew Milligan (PA Archive)

    Strarlings returning to the UK for winter to roost. Photo: Owen Humphreys (PA Wire)

    A robin returning to the UK for the winter months. Photo: Matthew Vincent (PA Wire)

  • Birds begin to take off
    29.09.2012 12:53


    As we have all noticed the arrival of autumn and the exit of summer, so have the British birds. Every year thousands of birds leave the UK as autumn hits and the temperatures begin to drop. Birds migrate to the tropics for the winter season due to changes in food availability, the weather, the number of daylight hours and available habitats. 

    Towards the end of summer a large number of birds leave their cooler, northern homes and fly south towards the tropics. They do this because food becomes scarce in cooler countries, such as the UK. In addition to this habitats can become endangered by winter conditions such as strong winds and heavy snow. The birds then return in spring as temperatures begin to increase and food begins to grow again, such as berries and nuts. 

    As the birds migrate they rely on the same physical principles used to construct accurate weather forecasts. As they migrate they follow mountain ranges, coastlines and often rivers as the updrafts and wind patterns create open paths and reduce friction which can often make flying difficult. An example of the birds that would leave the UK are swallows, house martins and swifts, many of which head to the tropics with their young where food is more available than during the winter months in the UK.

    A large quantity of research has been undertaken into how the weather effects when and how birds migrate. A team of scientists from Durham University in 2009 researched how climate change will impact the breeding and migration of birds. Climate change will and is leading to higher temperatures in spring and summer. This causes birds to travel further to find cool temperatures for breeding. The research found that if the current trend continues, birds could end up having to travel an additional 250 miles to find the conditions they need.

    It’s not all bad news though, as a number of birds migrate to the UK for winter! A number of birds migrate from their breeding grounds in northern Europe and Scandinavia to the UK for the winter months. They move from the cold and snow covered countries because their habits and food sources often become hidden by snow. So although we say goodbye to many birds this month, we can welcome back the Robin, Redwing and Blackbird. Just remember to put out bird seed or fat balls over winter so the birds don’t go without!

    By: Sally Webb