Bird Migration

18 Jun, 2020 590 Animals (Zoology)

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds’ annual arrivals, and speculated about what happened when they departed, perhaps moving deep under water, or turning into fish or shellfish, or hibernating while clinging to trees upside down. Ideas about migration developed in C19th when, in Germany, a stork was noticed with an African spear in its neck, indicating where it had been over the winter and how far it had flown. Today there are many ideas about how birds use their senses of sight and smell, and magnetic fields, to find their way, and about why and how birds choose their destinations and many questions. Why do some scatter and some flock together, how much is instinctive and how much is learned, and how far do the benefits the migrating birds gain outweigh the risks they face?

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Barbara Helm No other episodes
    Reader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow
  • Tim Guilford No other episodes
    Professor of Animal Behaviour and Tutorial Fellow of Zoology at Merton College, Oxford
  • Richard Holland No other episodes
    Senior Lecturer in Animal Cognition at Bangor University

Reading list

  • The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology
    Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury, 2011) Google Books →
  • Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics
    James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti (Particular Books, 2016) Google Books →
  • Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move
    Hugh Dingle (Oxford University Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation
    James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould (Princeton University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • The Migration of Birds: Seasons on the Wing
    Janice Hughes (Firefly Books, 2009) Google Books →
  • Bird Migration
    Ian Newton (HarperCollins, 2010) Google Books →
  • The Migration Ecology of Birds
    Ian Newton (Academic Press, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Migration Atlas: Movements of the Birds of Britain and Ireland
    Chris Wernham, Mike Toms, John Marchant, Jacquie A. Clark, Gavin Siriwardena and Stephen Baillie (eds) (Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd, 2002) Google Books →

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Programme ID: b08wmk5j

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Auto-category: 598.156 (Bird migration)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. For millennia, bird migration was a complete mystery to humans.