A lot of wild birds that we interact with in the African continent usually migrate great distances to be there at that specific time.
Through various technologies such as satellite tracking technology researchers are able to determine the precise routes undertaken in fine detail. These data are projected onto maps to portray their exact migratory pathways.
The BirdLife International ‘Important Bird Areas Programme’, has identified a network of areas in Africa. Over 1230 IBAs are distributed across in Africa. Although almost half of these sites have no legal protection, these sites do provide a certain degree of protection and are deemed important to the survival of a number of bird species and populations.
A lot of Migratory birds face numerous threats while undertaking their long journeys across land and oceans. Including climate change, habitat loss, hunting, new diseases and predation by cats and other introduced predators.
Some of the well studied migratory birds are Lesser Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Black Kite, Steppe Buzzard, White Stork, Black Stork, European Roller, European Nightjar, Common Cuckoo and European Swift.
For the birds to travel all these distances, they need to prepare. They do so by making the most of the food resources at their summer range before departing to their wintering grounds (as vice versa). Many birds are able to store extensive fat reserves which they can rely upon during their return journeys. Migratory birds will wait until the right climatic conditions before embarking on their journeys (one of the problems with climate change and global warming is that the timing of such journeys are becoming ‘mismatched’ due to what is known as thermal delay which adversely effects their natural migratory patterns). Some migrants which breed on their wintering grounds need to wait until their offspring are fit enough to make the journey and such delay can negatively impact on their breeding and hence survival.
How do they Orient & Navigate?
Birds need to know where they are heading. Much of this in instinctive by way of an ‘internal compass’ while young birds may also learn the correct migratory pathway directions from the adults. It is remarkable that some individuals of certain species return to the exact same nest, tree or even favourite roosting branch after migrating half way across the world!
In order to successfully fly over such vast distances, migratory birds need to be able to complete their remarkable journeys. While they may stop-over and refuel at various stops along the way, they need to carry on in order to reach their final destination on the wintering grounds where the optimal resources for feeding and for certain migrants, breeding are available. Similarly when people undertake a long-distance journey, especially for example on foot, they need the perseverance and resilience and be fit enough to complete their journey.