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I never knew that birds don't just migrate south for the winter! When I started working for the RSPB I discovered a beautiful, wonderful sounding, duck called a Wigeon. These birds arrive in October for our warm winter - yes that's right our warm winter! So they haven't migrated from the South - they have flown from the North! In the Spring they will breed in Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia, where they can find the right habitat to make a nest and look after chicks. BUT the weather in the winter will be freezing - all of their food, grass, will be covered in snow and frozen solid. So the Wigeon, and many other ducks & geese, fly south to the UK and our warmer winters. The birds will find enough food and shelter to survive and then migrate north in the spring. Here's a link to see the Wigeon in action The RSPB: Wigeon Listen for their crazy whistle - it's my favourite sound of winter.
In the UK we will also have more "garden birds" such as Robins, Blackbirds and Thrushes which arrive in the winter. These birds are coming from European countries that are too cold to provide food. Birds are great ways of seeing nature in action. Scientists are finding out that some birds, like the Chiffchaff, are starting to stay in the UK for the winter instead of migrating. this could be a sign of climate change - our warmer winters mean that there are enough insects for these insectivorous birds to stay all year round. Luckily we are able to build smaller tracking devices so one day we should be able to find out exactly where these birds travel.
One of the strangest facts about migration is that it would be more risky for a bird to stay in the wrong habitat than for it to travel thousands of miles. The journey might be full of danger but they are more likely to survive another year if they travel to a better habitat. The smallest bird to migrate across different countries is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. It builds up its food until it weighs 6g (that the same as a 10p coin) and then flies 600 miles from North America to central America.
Here is a picture of the Red throated humming bird; and possibly the cutest and ugliest chick in the world?
There is a lovely book called "Follow the Swallow" by Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson. The story is all about Apollo the Swallow and his friend Chack the Blackbird. Hopefully you might find it in your school or local library.
photographs: wigeon (top) and humming bird (bottom right)