Spring Tales: Migration at Night

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

We have (finally) been experiencing some weather that indicates spring is on its way. Bird lovers rejoice! Although we will be sad to see some of our favourite winter visitors go, such as all the Common Redpolls and Snowy Owls, each year we wait in anticipation for so many others to migrate back to the region. I am talking about the Baltimore Orioles, the Eastern Bluebirds, and Warblers of all kinds. All of these birds bring us such joy each spring. But first, they have to get here. And what a feat that is. 

Did you know, that most of these birds migrate at night? Orioles, Warblers, Sparrows, and Tanagers are nocturnal migrants. They call to each other as they fly to help them stick together. 
This has a lot to do with avoiding predation. Hawk migration happens during the day, so many songbirds take the night shift. Night migration has other upsides: the air tends to be cooler and more stable, helping these birds fly more efficiently. 

A Prothonotary Warbler, a species we can expect to see this spring 

A tiny little warbler that weighs about 1/3 ounce, or less than 10g, can cover distances of over 300 kilometres in a single night. 

These migrations can be heard. Here, in southern Ontario, it is more likely for us to hear large-scale migration in the fall when the birds head south from our region. During this time you may be able to see birds flying across the face of the moon with some binoculars. Additionally, if you listen carefully you can hear their distinctive flight calls as they fly past. 

Nighttime migrations can also be captured on radars meant to see weather patterns. Check out this amazing clip of birds caught on radar during night migration. What is showing up on this radar is not a storm, it is actually thousands, even millions, of birds migrating over Key West in Florida, heading our way at this time last year. Birds show up on the maps in yellow and green hues, whereas rain shows in darker blues. 

You can keep an eye on the BirdCast website here for bird migration forecast maps, local bird migration alerts, and live migration maps. If you need something to help you through this last push to spring, this is it! Watch in anticipation as some of your favourite birds head your way. 

That being said- make sure you are ready! Now is the time to: 

1) Make sure you clean your hummingbird and oriole feeders to re-hang 
  •     If you don't already have one, we recently got some awesome Oriole feeders back in stock such as our simple Oriole Flower Feeder. Treat yourself for Spring! 

Male Baltimore Oriole at an Oriole Flower Feeder 

2) Stock up on WBU Hummingbird and Oriole Nectar and BirdBerry Jelly 
3) Make sure any nest boxes you have are up and cleared out for returning birds 

Such as these Eastern Bluebirds

4) Start planning your gardens to include native species that benefit migrating species, such as Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies 
5) Brush up on how to help birds avoid window collisions by reading our former blog here
6) Provide high-energy foods for refuels like shelled or unshelled peanuts, Bark Butter Bits, and mealworms 

I don't know about you but I am looking forward to spring more than ever this year and cannot wait for these migrants to arrive! 




  1. Another excellent read, thanks Heather

  2. Excellent writing. Migrating birds can also be seen on radar. In the early days of radar, echoes of many, small targets were seen but poorly understood. These echoes were called “angels”. Now, we know that the angels are actually birds and sometimes bats.

    1. Yes it's fascinating isn't it?! Very cool how they seem to erupt into flight on the weather radar during migration.