Animal Migration

Migration is the periodic movement of an animal from the place where it has been living to a new area and its subsequent return journey to the original home. When animals migrate, it is usually to find abundant food and a good place to breed.

These seasonal movements of animals are one of the most incredible elements of nature.

Migrating animals usually use the same routes year after year--from generation to generation. Land animals cross mountains, rivers, and vast tracks of land. Birds, bats, and insects fly long distances, sometimes crossing entire continents or oceans. Swimming animals frequently migrate half way across the world.

The movement of migratory animals usually corresponds with seasonal changes. Many animals migrate to northern regions during summer months. The long summer days in the northernmost portions of the world ensure a good food supply. As fall and colder weather approaches, many animals migrate south to find warm winter weather and available food.

Some animals migrate annually with an outward and a homeward journey made in a single year. Some animals' patterns of migration are linked to weather patterns---their movements are dependent on rainfall and the availability of green vegetation. A few animals take several years to complete their migratory cycles.

Many scientists view animal migration as an adaptation. Animals that have learned to move to optimal environments are the ones who have survived to continue their species.

Sample some of the following activities to learn more about animal migration.


Places To Go    People To See    Things To Do    Teacher Resources    Bibliography

Places To Go

The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about architecture.

African Wildlife Foundation: Wildebeest
A look at the wildebeest and its annual migration.
Echo the Bat
A NASA resource about the migratory pattern of a bat.
Marathon Migrators
A teacher resource from NOVA concerned with the migration of a shorebird species.
Monarch Watch
Soar to Mexico with the monarch butterflies on their annual migration.
San Juan Capistrano - Swallows
Travel to San Juan Capistrano with migrating swallows.

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People To See

The Arctic Tern
Visit with the tiny arctic tern. It travels nearly 15,000 miles each year. It flies from the Arctic Ocean to the Antarctic Ocean and then back again. In the summer, they nest near the Arctic Circle. As winter approaches, they fly south to areas in Africa, Australia, and the Antarctic where it will be summer.
Blue Whale
Spend time with the largest animal in the world. Blue whales migrate long distances between equatorial wintering grounds and high latitude feeding areas.
Gray Whale Migration Route
Talk to the thousands of people off the western coast of the U.S. who gather to watch the gray whales each year. Every year the gray whales travel from their icy cold ocean feeding grounds around Alaska to the warm coastal areas in southern California and Baja Mexico. In the warm waters, they give birth to their calves. This 6,000 mile migration (round trip 12,000) is thought to be the longest migration of any mammal.
Leatherback Turtle Migration Study Identifies Pacific Danger Zones for Endangered Species
Meet leatherback turtles. They are the mostly widely distributed turtles in the world and also the largest turtles. One particular population of leatherback turtles migrates from South American all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Scotland. On their long, migratory journey, these turtles often travel as deep down as 4,500 feet in order to avoid sharks and other predators. They surface about once every hour in order to breathe.
March of the Christmas Island Crabs
Get to know millions of red crabs. Off the coast of Australia, on Christmas Island, every year over 120 million red crabs migrate from the forest floor of the island to the ocean. For the small crabs, the 5 mile migration is long and dangerous. The red crabs are land crabs, but they can only release their eggs in ocean water.
Then spend time with orcas--also known as killer whales. Have students research the migrational patterns of different species of cetaceans.

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Things To Do

Animals on the Move
Learn how NASA is using its satellites to track animal migration.
Become acquainted with the resources at the Audubon Society. There are over 9500 species of birds worldwide, and nearly half of those species are migrants. They fly from one area of the world to another according to seasonal changes in food supply and weather.
Caribbean Conservation
Track endangered sea turtles as they travel to the east coast of the United States to lay their eggs in rapidly disappearing coastal areas. You can send for free teaching guides and materials for classroom use.
Formation Flying Makes Migration Less of a Drag
Many migrating birds fly in a "V" formation. Find out why.
Gray Whale
Learn about gray whales. They breed and winter in the warm waters around Mexico and migrate north to the seas around the Bering Strait.
HawkWatch International
Follow along with volunteers during raptor migration as they harmlessly trap and band thousands of birds of prey as they travel through flyways in the United States.
Journey North
Join other classrooms in tracking wildlife migrations. The Journey North (South) is an incredible (and fun and easy) way for students to be engaged in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. The journeys of a dozen migratory species are tracked each spring.
Migration and Navigation
Discover how migrating animals may navigate on their long journeys. In the U.S., about 245 species of birds migrate to Central or South America including herons, swallows, flycatchers, hawks, falcons, owls, and warblers. In Europe, many birds migrate back and forth to Africa.
Migration of Animals
Learn which animal only migrates once in a lifetime. Other animals migrate daily, monthly (by the moon), or seasonally.
Migration of Birds
Find out why birds migrate, how weather affects migrating birds' progress, and what human activities threaten migratory birds.
Utah's Online Library
Have students use the newspaper sources from Utah's Online Library to see what scientists have to say about the weather patterns that are causing penguins to waddle ashore on warm, tropical sand.
Shadow A Swan Project
Involve your class in a migration project. Your students can shadow a swan on its migration from Alaska to California. Use satellite technology to follow the tundra swans as they migrate.
Utah Birds
Track the migration of birds across our state. This is also a great site to find photos and range maps of the bird species in Utah as well as popular birding places in each county. You can also call the Utah State Birdline, (801) 538-4730, to find out the latest in birding news.

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Teacher Resources

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  • Able, Kenneth P. Gatherings of Angels: Migrating Birds and Their Ecology. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Books, c1999.
  • Arnold, Caroline. Hawk Highway in the Sky: Watching Raptor Migration. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, c1997.
  • Bennett, Paul. Migration. New York: Thomson Learning, c1995.
  • Carter, Kyle. Animals That Travel. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke, 1995.
  • Elphick, Jonathan. The Atlas of Bird Migration: Tracing the Great Journeys of the World's Birds. New York: Random House, c1995.
  • Fowler, Allan. Animals on the Move. New York: Children's Press, c2000.
  • Garcia, Eulalia. Storks: Majestic Migrators. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens, 1996.
  • Kerlinger, Paul. How Birds Migrate. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, c1995.  
  • Miller, Debbie S. Flight of the Golden Plover: The Amazing Migration Between Hawaii and Alaska. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Books, c1996.
  • Riha, Susanne. Animal Journeys: Life Cycles and Migrations. Woodbridge, Conn.: Blackbirch Press, c1999.
  • Sayre, April Pulley. Home at Last: A Song of Migration. New York : Holt, 1998.
  • Simon, Seymour. Ride the Wind: Airborne Journeys of Animals and Plants. San Diego: Browndeer Press, c1997.
  • Weidensaul, Scott. Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. New York: North Point Press, c1999.