Wildlife in Winter: Migration

By Colleen Beaty, Manager, Conservation Content and Partnerships|January 21, 2014

As we introduced last month, animal species have adapted a variety of techniques for surviving through the winter’s colder temperatures and decreased food availability. One of the more common strategies used by animals is migration.

 Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Photo courtesy of USFWS.

When you think about migration, you probably think first about birds, right? This isn’t surprising, given that the majority of birds in North America are migratory species. But did you know that other types of animals, including mammals and insects, migrate too? For example, some populations of caribou may migrate up to 3,100 miles a year to travel to between winter foraging grounds and summer calving grounds.

Migrating south in the fall (and back north in the spring) allows a species to avoid the food scarcity and colder temperatures of winter by traveling to locations that are warmer and/or that have greater food availability. It’s most typically used by animals that feed on insects or flowers, which are not available in the winter. By migrating, animals are also able to stay active year-round, enabling them to stay vigilant against the threat of predators. However, migration can be energetically costly – animals have to store up enough energetic reserves (fat) to provide energy for the trip, and many also stop along the way to refuel.

Photo courtesy of MonarchWatch.

Photo courtesy of MonarchWatch.

In fact, having “stopover habitat” where migratory species can forage to restock their energetic reserves is critical to their survival. However, the availability of stopover habitat continues to decline as habitat is lost or degraded by human activities. For example, you can help with the conservation of migratory species by creating stopover habitat on your land. You can plant berry-producing shrubs and trees to provide berries for migratory birds in the fall. You can also plant milkweed (Asclepias spp.) to support migrating monarch butterflies, which lay their eggs on milkweed on the first half of their northward migration each spring.

If you’d like specific recommendations on what species you can plant for migratory species where you live, contact the Wildlife Habitat Council at WHC@wildlifehc.org.

Read more WHC blogs.