Why Don’t Birds Simply Stay in the South Year-Round?

Why do birds fly south? In a word, competition.

We all know why North American birds fly south in the fall. But why don’t they simply stay in their lush southern surroundings year-round?

George Peer
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

In a word, competition. Like every other species in the world, birds have to compete for the resources to eat, drink, and be reproductive. If they all decided to hang up their traveling lifestyles and retire to the tropics year-round, supplies would run out quickly and many species wouldn’t be able to feed the next generation. Instead, evolution has given some birds the ability to fly across continents. It provides a less competitive way of life: They can raise their young in the verdant lands up north during the summer and pack up for the south when the thermometer drops and nesting season comes to an end.

As the U.S. Geological Survey puts it, “the migratory habit has evolved in bird populations in which, on average, more individuals survive by moving to a different area part of the year than if they remained in the same area all year.”

Edited by Bob Sillery
Research by Brad Dunn and Michael Moyer