Skip to Content

World Migratory Bird Day

09 May 2014

The Department of Environmental Affairs and BirdLife South Africa will be collaborating on an educational and awareness campaign largely focussed at schools, to commemorate World Migratory Bird Day on 11 - 12 May this year.

World Migratory Bird Day is an annual awareness-raising event that highlights the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats.  The theme for this year’s World Migratory Bird Day is Migratory Birds and Tourism which seeks to educate the public about the tourism opportunities coupled with bird migration and how citizens can assist to conserve birds and their habitat. The timing of the international WMBD celebrations is linked to the return of migratory birds to the northern hemisphere in their summer period, which means migratory birds are leaving rather than arriving in South Africa at this time. 

The “Destination Flyways” Project - a UN World Tourism Organisation initiative, will be promoted under this theme.  The Project channels the development of sustainable tourism in destinations along the world’s major migratory bird routes, also known as flyways. By channelling tourism revenue back into the conservation of bird sites, the project aims to safeguard the birds’ habitats, while creating resilient and green job opportunities for local communities.

This year, the Destination Flyways Project will function as a prime example of how tourism developed around migratory birds can be a vehicle for both environmental and socio-economic sustainability, benefitting wildlife, local communities and tourists alike.

Birds migrate from areas with low or decreasing food and nesting resources to areas where these resources are densely available.  Birds that nest in the northern hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of flourishing insect populations, budding plants and plenty of nesting locations. As winter approaches and the availability of food resources drops, the birds move south again. Some birds also migrate to escape the cold, but many species such as hummingbirds, can withstand freezing temperatures as long as enough food is available.

Migrating birds can cover thousands of kilometres during their travels.  First time migrants move to a winter home they have usually never seen before and later return to the area in which they were born without getting lost. After the first trip they travel the same course year after year.

Birds that migrate to South Africa:

  • Greater Striped Swallow
  • Amur Falcon
  • White-rumped Swift
  • White Stork
  • Pygmy Kingfisher
  • Yellow-billed Kite
  • Lesser Kestrel
  • Honey Buzzard
  • Woodland Kingfisher
  • Red-chested Cuckoo
  • European Bee-eater

Many sites on which birds depend are under threat from human activities, such as pollution. Heavy pollution reduces available food supplies and suitable habitat, making it more difficult for birds to complete their migrations successfully. Destroying forests, cutting down trees and building close to or on a wetland also destroys habitats for birds. Coupled with these are natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires and adverse weather associated with climate change, which also impact on these habitats and birds’ food sources, leading to starvation

Tens of thousands of migrating birds collide with obstacles in mid-flight during both spring and autumn migrations, and the majority of these collisions cause fatal injuries. Such obstacles include tall buildings, electrical wires and wind turbines.  Exhaustion and falling prey to predators are also amongst the conditions that threaten these birds.

What the public can do:

The first step in helping birds migrate successfully is to understand the threats they face along the way. The general public can assist by:

  • minimizing or avoiding pesticide use and taking care to dispose of oil, lead and other toxic materials safely and responsibly so there is no environmental contamination that can affect birds. If a spill occurs, participating in clean-up efforts can help protect both local and migratory birds.
  • Creating bird-friendly landscaping and preserving natural habitats for birds to rest and refuel during migration. This includes choosing native plants and providing water to birds as well as offering good food both naturally and through supplemental feeders.

Furthermore, the public and schools are encouraged to learn more about the birds in their immediate vicinity by visiting a local park or natural environment and getting to know just ten local species common to your area. It is always enjoyable to take note of migratory species and watch out for their return in spring.

To find out about activities near to where you are, look up your local bird club by following this link:

For media queries contact:

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871

Simon Gear
Policy and Advocacy Manager: BirdLife SA
Cell: 082 821 4975