May 16

The world’s migratory birds perform some of the most remarkable feats in the animal kingdom, with some species, such as the Arctic tern, undertaking epic journeys which span thousands of kilometres. The annual migration of an estimated 50 billion birds, representing around 19% of the world’s 10,000 bird species, is one of nature’s great natural wonders.

Photo of Arctic tern adult feeding young

The Arctic tern migrates an impressive 22,000 km annually, travelling from its Arctic breeding grounds to winter in the Antarctic

Weekend celebrations

Over the weekend (14th and 15th May), people from over 50 countries took part in celebrations to mark World Migratory Bird Day 2011. An annual campaign, World Migratory Bird Day is devoted to celebrating migratory birds and promoting their conservation worldwide.

The theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, ‘Land use changes from a bird’s-eye view ,’ was designed to highlight the negative effects that human activities are having on migratory birds, their habitats and the planet’s natural environment.

Photo of bar-headed goose flock in flight

Bar-headed geese are the world’s highest flying migratory birds, migrating over Mount Everest at 29,000 feet to reach India's lowlands

Migratory bird populations are particularly sensitive to any interference to the sites they use throughout their migratory cycle.

Unfortunately, habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are occurring on a global scale, and each year, more and more of the natural habitats that migratory birds need to complete their marathon journeys either diminish or disappear completely.

Human impact

The destruction of the world’s natural habitats is being caused mainly by the growing pressures placed on the natural environment by an ever-expanding human population, coupled with increasing urbanisation and unsustainable human use of the world’s natural areas and resources.

Although migratory birds face many serious threats, the way humans use the land around them has by far the greatest negative effect. Unsustainable human land use, whether through deforestation, intensive agriculture, biofuel production, land reclamation, urbanization and mining directly removes or damages the habitats of migratory birds, affecting their populations on a global scale”, says Bert Lenten, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and initiator of the World Migratory Bird Day campaign.

Photo of Ruby-throated hummingbird male feeding

Some of the world’s smallest birds, such as the ruby-throated hummingbird, travel extraordinary distances given their diminutive size

To raise awareness of the urgent need to conserve migratory birds and protect their habitats, hundreds of volunteers, dedicated groups and organisations around the world took action and organised a variety of public events to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day – including bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and bird watching excursions.

Find out what happened to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day near you by visiting:

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author