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Migratory paths

Hedgerows are useful to a great number of birds for a wide variety of reasons. Birds may use them as:

  • sources of food (fruits, berries, insects)

  • nesting sites

  • places of shelter (from both predators and the weather) 

Not all birds which use our hedgerows stay in this country all year. Some deal with unfavourable seasonal changes in their habitats by migrating to find food or better breeding conditions elsewhere. Some species visit the UK during the summer months, while others are winter visitors. 

Curriculum Links

England and Wales - Life Processes and Living Things, (5c) -how some organisms are adapted to survive daily and seasonal changes in their habitats.
Scotland - Understanding Living Things and the Processes of Life - Interaction of living things with their environment (responses of plants and animals to environmental stimuli, including plant growth responses and behaviour in animals)
Northern Ireland - Living Organisms and Life Processes - Environment (d) (learn that living organisms are adapted to survive in the environment)


Student Sheet 1 and Sheet 2 , coloured pens or pencils, atlases, classroom internet access if possible.

Age range

11 -14

The Activity

In this exercise, students use Student Sheet 1 to learn more about a number of summer and winter visitors. They plot their migration routes to and from the UK on a world map and question why they make these long journeys. Teacher Sheet 2 and Sheet 3 contain illustrations of the birds used as examples in the activity. The pictures can be printed off in black and white.

This activity can be used to revise the locations and names of the major continents and oceans, providing opportunities for cross-curricular links with Geography. 

Stressing the feat of travelling huge distances and coping with the difficult conditions of some migrations can bring this subject alive. For example, did you know that some Arctic tern travel a round trip of about 40,000 km each year (from the Arctic to Australia and back)? Did you know some birds fly as high as 23,000 feet when migrating? Or that some birds double their body weight before setting off (stored fat for energy).

Although birds are good at finding their way when migrating, they may be blown off course by bad weather, or fail to reach their destination as a result of insufficient energy.

Extension Activities 

This activity could become part of an individual or group project, investigating some or all of the aspects of the lives of the birds mentioned in this activity. Students could look at what they eat, their preferred habitats, their positions within food chains and webs, their preferred nesting sites, the number of eggs laid, and any influences humans and human activities have on their survival. ITC requirements can be addressed by using CD-roms and the Internet as sources of information. Wall displays or booklets could be produced as a result.

Another extension activity could be to investigate the migratory routes of other animals (eg wildebeest, salmon, eels, reindeer, caribou and butterflies such as the painted lady or red admiral). Why are these migratory journeys made? 

Teachers' Answers

Answers to Student Sheet 1

What do you notice about the routes taken by our 'summer visitors'?

They cross seas at their narrowest points so that they have the option to alight on dry land for rest, food and water.

Why do you think our 'summer visitors' leave in the autumn?

Because the weather becomes too cold for them and for their food, which disappears.

Why, then do we get certain bird species visiting us in our winters?

These birds are leaving even more inhospitable places, eg Scandinavia and Iceland in the northern winter. They may be visiting us for food sources that we have in abundance in winter - eg hedgerow fruit and worms for redwings/fieldfares. Beechmast for bramblings. Some species, eg crossbills and waxwings, only visit us in years when food in their usual wintering area is in short supply.