Short-Distance and Long-Distance Migrants
Comparing Robins and Hummingbirds

* Student Record Sheet (below)
* Teacher Tips: Sample Responses
Some birds, such as robins, are called short distance migrants. They migrate with the seasons, but many remain in the United States in winter. Meanwhile, ruby-throated hummingbirds are long-distance migrants; they fly up to 2,000 miles between their wintering sites in Mexico and Central America and their breeding sites in the U.S. and Canada.

Why do these species have such different migration patterns? What makes each unique? Compare these spring migrants as you gather data from Journey North updates and research. As the migration season unfolds, think about how each species' needs, adaptations, and migration patterns are intertwined.

Laying the Groundwork
Introduce the concept of long- and short-distance migrations to students. Ask, Have you ever seen a robin in your neighborhood in the winter? When do we usually see robins in spring? When do we usually see hummingbirds (if at all)? Which do you think is a short-distance migrant? A long-distance migrant? Have students explain their thinking.


  1. Hand out the the Student Record Sheet for comparing robins and hummingbirds. Have students complete the migration map comparison activity* at the top. The second comparison (What prompts migration?) is already filled in.
  2. Over the course of the season, students should try to complete the other comparisons, drawing on Journey North News Updates for robins and hummingbirds, FAQs, and other sources. As they do, assign some of the journaling and discussion questions listed below, and create some of your own.
    (* The Teacher Tips page provides sample responses to the worksheet.)

Journaling and Discussion Questions

  • How do the factors that prompt each species to migrate (e.g., food and weather vs. photoperiod) explain their different migration patterns?
  • What are two ways in which a robin's specific food needs and preferences help explain its migration patterns?
  • What are two ways in which a hummmingbird's specific food needs and preferences help explain its migration patterns?
  • How else do you think each species' migration patterns are linked to temperature and other weather factors?
  • Which birds (robins or rubythroats) do you think have a longer nesting season? Explain your thinking.

How Could Global Warming Affect
Short- and Long-Distance Migrants?

Scientists studying climate change have some interesting theories about this. They believe that long-distance migrants, such as hummingbirds, may have a harder time adapting to global warming than birds that don't travel as far. Why? Long-distance migrants depend on changes in daylength to trigger their migration. Short-distance migrants respond more to weather clues, so they can gradually move northward as weather improves. Scientists believe that these birds can get a jump on resources and outcompete long-distance migrants that arrive in a region later.

How Did Scientists Form Their Theories?
They gathered long-term data on climate and on the return of migrating birds in different regions. As they reviewed and interpreted data, they discovered that a pattern exists between temperatures and the average date of return of different species. In one study, for instance, researchers discovered that short-distance migrants returned 13 days earlier during the second half of the 1900s (when average temperatures were higher), but long-term migrants returned only 4 days earlier.

What's Ahead?
Global warming is a "hot" topic. Watch the media for more news from scientists studying climate change. Also . . .

  • See Journey North's Climate Connections feature. >>
  • Learn about climate change in the arctic. >>