Why Do Animals Migrate?

The world’s animal migrations are nothing short of breathtaking, leaving us in awe of the marvels of nature. From the enchanting sight of countless monarch butterflies gathering in trees to the awe-inspiring spectacle of wildebeests sweeping across the vast African plains, these mass migrations are a testament to the resilience of the animal kingdom. 

While these sights may be captivating to us, they hold far more significance for the animals themselves. In fact, these migrations are not just extraordinary events; they are vital for the survival of entire species. 

Throughout this article, we will delve into some of the most remarkable animal migrations in the world. These journeys span vast distances, involving incredible feats of endurance and determination. Whether it’s the epic migration of bar-tailed godwits crossing the vast Pacific Ocean or the extraordinary overland trek of caribou across the Arctic Tundra, each migration holds its own unique tale of determination and adaptation.

Migration: What is it really?

Migration is a captivating natural event that often brings to mind birds flying between their homes and other places. Scientists and the public are fascinated by bird migration, and they study it extensively. But it’s not just birds; many other animals also go on remarkable journeys across different landscapes and terrains.

Animal migration takes various forms, showing how adaptable and resourceful different species are. Some migrations go from east to west, while others involve complex round-trips over land and ocean. Certain animals even journey up and down mountains or move vertically within oceans and lakes.

What makes migration unique is that it involves moving between different habitats to find better conditions. The diversity of migration patterns and their ecological importance make this subject captivating for biologists and researchers.

Animals that Migrate

Migratory animals can be found in different branches of the animal kingdom, including fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammals, and even slime moulds. Let’s journey on 13 migratory animals and discover their innate behaviors.

#1 The Arctic Tern’s: “The Champion of Migration”

The Arctic tern, known as “the champion of migration,” takes the longest journey of any animal on Earth. It travels nearly 44,000 miles (71,000 km) per year, flying from Greenland to Antarctica and back. These small birds, weighing only about 4 ounces, make this epic migration to find better conditions for breeding and survival. They spend their summers in Greenland, raising their young, and then head south to the warm season at the bottom of the world as winter approaches in the north. 

Arctic Tern Flying in River

#2 Caribou: “Over 400 Miles Journey Land Migration”

Caribou or reindeer embark on the longest terrestrial migration, traveling up to 400 miles (640 km) between their summer and winter feeding grounds. Interestingly, larger herds typically cover more distance than smaller ones. Grey wolves, their primary predators, keep pace with them, making this migration even more fascinating.

#3 Fruit Bats: “10 Million Bat Exodus”

Over 10 million fruit bats travel from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Northern Zambia’s evergreen swamp forest each year. They search for exotic fruits like mangoes, red-milkwood berries, water berries, and loquats. As they head back home, the bats leave behind seeds in their guano, rejuvenating the forest with new growth.

#4 Southern Right Whales: “An Icy Odyssey”

Whales, as magnificent mammals of the ocean, also demonstrate impressive migratory patterns. Southern right whales embark on a lengthy migration from Antarctic feeding areas to temperate breeding areas in various locations, including Chile, Argentina, southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The journey spans over 2,500 km each way, and it is entirely fueled by the fat accumulated during their time in the icy Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

Southern Right whale, Patagonia , Argentina

#5 Salmon Migration: “Swimming Upstream for Survival”

Salmon face tremendous challenges during their migration as they swim upstream to spawn in the rivers where they were born. They may travel up to 250 miles (400 km) upriver, crossing rapids and waterfalls along the way. Their remarkable endurance and determination are necessary for the survival of their species.

#6 Humpback Whales Migration: “10,000-Mile Journey and Fasting”

Humpback whales undertake a nearly 10,000-mile migration to warmer waters for giving birth and raising their young. During this journey, adult humpback whales don’t eat for months, relying on fat reserves. They feast upon vast schools of tiny shrimp known as krill in the waters around Antarctica during their feeding season.

#7 Wildebeest: “1,000 Miles Expedition”

Wildebeests participate in one of the largest terrestrial migrations, with 1.5 to 2 million animals traveling up to 1,000 miles per year. They roam the Serengeti-Mara region of Kenya and Tanzania, along with zebras and other antelopes, in search of food and water. Baby wildebeests can join the journey just minutes after being born.

#8 Flamingos’ Irregular Migrations: “Infrequent Spectacular Trek”

Africa’s lesser flamingos make a spectacular and infrequent migration triggered by torrential rains. They flock to an ancient lake from thousands of miles away to feed on algae and breed. Once the chicks hatch, they must embark on their own unique land migration, guided by their parents, to find fresh water.

#9 Monarch Butterf lies’: “Epic Journey Over Generations”

Monarch butterflies undertake an extraordinary journey that spans more than one generation. Millions of butterflies migrate from northeastern North America to the warm forests of Mexico, covering about 3,000 miles (4,800 km). The round-trip journey from Canada to Mexico and back takes longer than the butterflies’ maximum lifespan.

Monarch Butterflies

#10 Diel Vertical Migration: “Daily Ocean Odyssey”

The world’s largest migrations happen every day in the oceans. Microscopic animals, including squid, lanternfish, shrimp-like crustaceans, and jellyfish, rise hundreds of meters to the sunlit waters near the surface at sunset to find food. As the sun rises, they sink back into the dark waters to avoid visual predators. This diel vertical migration is essential for their survival.

#11 The Bar-Tailed Godwit: A Marathon over the Pacific

Birds showcase some of the most awe-inspiring migrations in the animal kingdom. The bar-tailed godwit, for example, embarks on a remarkable non-stop flight, crossing the vast Pacific Ocean in just nine days. These incredible birds travel from Alaska to Australia and New Zealand, covering an astonishing distance during their journey.

#12 Turtles: An Ancient Quest for Breeding Grounds

Reptiles, such as turtles, undertake incredible journeys when it’s time for females to lay their eggs. After hauling themselves out of the sea onto distant breeding beaches, they lay and bury their eggs before returning to the ocean. The tiny baby turtles instinctively find their way back to the safety of the sea without any parental guidance.

#13 European Swallows and Wildebeests: Seasonal Movers

Insects, like European swallows, embark on impressive migrations too. These swallows migrate south to Africa or Asia during the winter, where the climate is warmer and food is abundant. They cover significant distances of up to 320 km daily, relying on fat reserves to avoid starvation during their journey. Similarly, wildebeests in the Serengeti follow seasonal rains that nourish the grasses they graze upon. Additionally, the monarch butterfly, with over 100 million individuals, undergoes a well-known insect migration, sweeping across North America to reach their overwintering grounds in California and Mexico, covering up to 4,750 km. The monarchs exhibit intergenerational relay migrations, where successive generations continue the journey as no single individual completes the entire round trip.

Reasons Behind Their Migration

Migration is a crucial behavior for many animals, and it serves various essential purposes in their lives. Let’s explore three key reasons why animals migrate:

1. Finding Suitable Breeding Grounds

One of the most common reasons for migration is to locate appropriate places for breeding and reproduction. Many species undertake long journeys to reach areas that offer optimal conditions for raising their offspring. For example, the Atlantic salmon starts its life in a river but moves to the ocean as it matures. However, when it’s time to reproduce, it migrates back to the same river where it was born. This cycle is repeated to ensure the continuation of the species. Similarly, crustaceans, like various species of crabs, reside in deep seas but migrate to shallow waters for breeding before returning to deeper waters.

2. Surviving Harsh Weather through Hibernation

Hibernation is a crucial strategy for the survival of some animals during harsh weather conditions. For instance, the little brown bat exemplifies this behavior. During the summer, these creatures live in trees, but when winter approaches, they migrate to caves for hibernation. By entering a state of hibernation, they conserve energy and stay protected from the extreme cold.

3. Searching for Food 

Another common reason for migration is the need to find sufficient food. Animals embark on long journeys when food becomes scarce in their current location. An excellent example is the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. During seasons of food scarcity, these animals start moving to greener pastures in other areas. The direction of their migration may change depending on where rainfall occurs, as it indicates the availability of food. By migrating in search of food, they ensure the well-being of their species and the survival of their offspring.


Animal migration is a fascinating phenomenon that offers insights into the incredible navigation and adaptability of creatures in response to their ever-changing surroundings. The motives driving animal migration are diverse and crucial for their survival and ability to thrive.

These remarkable animals exhibit unwavering determination as they journey across oceans, traverse mountains, and brave treacherous terrains. Their migrations are fueled by the quest for better feeding grounds, escaping harsh weather, and finding suitable places to breed and nurture their offspring.

In witnessing such migratory marvels, we are reminded of the astonishing diversity and resilience of life on Earth. Nature’s wonders continue to unfold before our very eyes through these awe-inspiring migrations, leaving us in awe of the beauty and tenacity found within the animal kingdom.