American White Pelican, photo by Robert Kuhn

What is a migratory bird?

Landbirds | Raptors

Migratory birds, including both game and non-game species, regularly move between summer breeding grounds and non-breeding wintering areas.  During migration, they must stop to feed and rest at what are known as stopover sites, the bird equivalent of overnight stays at motels on long road trips.  Migratory birds, many weighing less than half an ounce, travel hundreds to thousands of miles between breeding and wintering areas and, with few exceptions, must use several stopover sites along the way.

Baltimore Oriole, photo by Thomas Schultz

WISI recognizes five groups of migratory birds: 

Landbirds are forest and grassland songbirds and other perching birds such as cuckoos, nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds, kingfishers, and woodpeckers.  Raptors include eagles, hawks, falcons, osprey, vultures, and owls.  Waterfowl refers to swans, geese, and ducks, while the waterbird group includes traditional colonial nesting species (gulls, terns, herons, egrets, cormorants, pelicans), marsh birds (rails, bitterns, coots, cranes) and other waterbirds (loons, grebes).  Finally, shorebirds consist mainly of plovers and allies (plovers, stilts, avocet) and sandpipers and allies (sandpipers, godwits, turnstones, dowitchers, phalaropes).