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Migration Journeys

Man has known about the seasonal appearance and disappearance of birds for thousands of years. There are references in the Bible, and the Greek philosopher Aristotle noted the disappearance of Redstarts each autumn. The idea of birds moving from one place to another was not so well understood however, and Aristotle believed that Redstarts changed into Robins in the winter!

As recently as 200 years ago it was thought that Swallows and other summer visitors to Ireland spent the winter in hibernation. It was not until the beginning of this century that we began to understand what the birds had been doing, on and off, for probably at least the last million years.

We now know that almost the entire planet is criss-crossed by the migration routes of thousands of birds. These routes lead in all directions and show how the simple idea of migration only involving movements north and south is far from the whole story. Each year some birds almost encircle the globe in their travels from winter quarters to summer breeding areas and back again.

Below is an example of just three of our common winter visitors. Compare these with an atlas and see if you can work out how many kilometres some of these birds must travel to reach our shores.

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Please click on the "Next Page" link below to go to Part 2 of this section.

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