Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Soar the flyways and byways of migratory birds—from storks to hummingbirds—as they defy climates and continents to return home.
One out of 5 birds—over 2,000 species—migrate from one geographic location to another every year.
Migratory Birds at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
Guests can see migratory birds in 3 different areas of Disney's Animal Kingdom park. Visit bar-headed geese at Maharajah Jungle Trek, white storks at the Tree of Life, and Northern pintail ducks at The Oasis near the main entrance to the park.
Migratory Birds in the Wild
Migratory birds are found on every continent around the world—even some penguins migrate! Migrations coincide with seasonal changes, usually to feeding grounds in the winter and to breeding grounds in the spring. Many birds migrate from north to south for the winter, but in the southern hemisphere birds travel south to north for the winter! Some waterfowl migrate east to west, and some mountain dwelling birds simply move up and down between higher and lower elevations!
Threats to Migratory Birds
Over 40% of migratory bird species are declining—and over 200 species are now considered globally threatened as a result of habitat loss and competition with humans. Ecosystems that are essential to migratory birds are disappearing at alarming rates.
Disney Conservation Efforts
The Walt Disney Company is passionately committed to the protection of migratory birds and their natural habitats. Find out what Disney is doing to help these species—and how you can help, too!
“Disney’s Animal Kingdom creates an incredible experience where you’re really engaging with animals and conservation. You walk away feeling a special connection with animals and nature.” – Djuan Rivers, VP, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park
Migratory birds cross countries and continents, so efforts to protect them must be international in scope.
Birds flying on their migration routes (flyways) need to stop and rest at safe places that have clean water, food and cover. But these stopover habitats are disappearing at alarming rates as a result of deforestation, human expansion, pollution, pesticides and changes in water levels and quality. Large-scale oil spills are devastating to marine bird populations, while many birds are killed by buildings, power lines and windmills in their path.
Threats and Obstacles
Migrating birds often crash into plate glass windows that reflect the surrounding landscape in the daytime, and into high-rise buildings at night. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that window collisions account for up to 1 billion bird deaths annually in the U.S. alone. Another major threat is from outdoor domestic and feral cats, which are estimated to kill up to 4 billion birds in the U.S. each year.
Disney Is Helping Migratory Birds in the Wild
It was Walt Disney’s dream to protect habitat for wildlife, which is why he set aside one-third of Walt Disney World Resort—over 8,000 acres of wetland and upland habitats—as a protected area. This Wildlife Management and Conservation Area (WMCA) serves as an important corridor for many species of migratory birds. In fact, many of those birds make this location their winter home and breeding ground. In total, there are more than 200 bird species that, either seasonally or year-round, call the WMCA home. Each month, as populations ebb and flow, Disney Cast Members conduct a survey on the ever-changing diversity.
Disney Cast Members are monitoring and working to protect the purple martin, a small songbird that eats insects and weighs only 2 ounces. The purple martins you see at Walt Disney World Resort traveled an incredible 3,000 miles from their winter grounds in the Brazilian Amazon, with one very important mission in mind: to raise a family. They are dependent upon people to put up housing for them, so keep an eye out for purple martin houses installed throughout Walt Disney World Resorts, including Epcot, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort - Riverside and Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa.
When martins build their nests, they start with pine straw. Once they line a nest with oak leaves, we can soon expect to see the arrival of 5 to 7 eggs. In just 16 days, the eggs hatch and the purple martin parents get busy caring for their young and feeding them lots of dragonflies. In about 26 days, the chicks are filled out with feathers and preparing to take their first flight. And by fall, the chicks and their parents set out to make that amazing journey back to the Brazilian Amazon. Every year, we look forward to their return!
Another one of our feathered friends that Disney is helping is the Siberian crane. They are iconic, especially in China, where they overwinter before traveling to their breeding grounds in northern Russia. However, the Siberian crane is also critically endangered due to the loss of wetland habitat along its migratory route. Disney is focusing on efforts to reverse their decline through the Disney Conservation Fund and the expertise of Disney Cast Members, which supports work to monitor and protect the relevant stopover sites along the 3,000-plus-mile migration path the birds take each year.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom park is home to some very special migratory bird species.
Bar-Headed Geese (Anser indicus)
Bar-headed geese (at Maharaja Jungle Trek) are the world’s highest flyers, known to cross the Himalayas at 30,000 feet (10,000 m)—the cruising altitude of a commercial jet! These amazing geese breed near high-altitude lakes in Tibet and Central Asia during warm summer months, then migrate to South Asia when it gets colder, as far south as peninsular India. They are primarily herbivores, feeding on highland grasses near streams and lakes, but they also eat insects and other invertebrates.
White Storks (Ciconia ciconia)
White storks (at Tree of Life) don’t deliver babies, but they do get around! They breed in the wetlands of Europe, the Middle East and west-central Asia during warm summer months, then cross entire continents to winter in southern Africa—often migrating straight across the Sahara desert without stopping, though some use the Sudan as a resting place. Favorite foods include frogs, small fish, insects, rodents, birds and eggs. During breeding season, their noisy “bill-clattering” sounds like machine gun fire!
Northern Pintail Ducks (Anas acuta)
Our elegant Northern pintail ducks (at Oasis) are also world travelers, breeding throughout North America, central Europe, Russia and Asia and wintering anywhere from southern Asia and Europe to South America, northern Africa and the Pacific Islands! Northern pintails inhabit lakes, rivers, marshes, swamps and tundra wetlands and feed on grains, seeds, insects and grasses. If a predator approaches a female pintail’s chicks, she will pretend to be injured, drawing attention away from her chicks and to herself instead.
Migratory birds are somehow able to navigate thousands of miles year after year without getting lost. Maybe these birds are smarter than we thought!
GPS Is for the Birds
Many bird species migrate thousands—and even tens of thousands—of miles each year, often returning to the exact same places. How do they do it? Over short distances, birds use visual landmarks to stay on course. Daytime migrants use the direction of the sun to navigate, and nighttime migrants use the position of the stars. Some birds can even sense the earth’s magnetic fields—and use them to orient themselves during flights!
Migratory birds come in all shapes and sizes. Hummingbirds are among the smallest—the ruby-throated hummingbird measures only 2.8 to 3.5 inches (7 to 9 cm) and weighs less than 0.2 ounces (6 g)! The tallest migratory bird is the whooping crane, which can stand 5 feet tall (158 cm), yet weighs only 15 pounds (7 kg). The arctic tern has one of the longest yearly migration routes of any animal on earth, making a round-trip journey of over 25,000 miles (40,000 k) from its breeding grounds in the North Pole to overwinter in Antarctica. Not to be outdone, the bar-tailed godwit crosses the Pacific Ocean, travelling over 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) in a single flight!
By Air, Sea or Land
Migrating birds typically follow natural aviation highways known as flyways. But not all birds travel by air. Some mountain-based pheasants and grouse travel by foot, making altitudinal migrations simply by walking uphill or downhill. Some bird species fly across waters but then walk to their feeding grounds once they arrive on land. And penguins often prefer to migrate by swimming!
How do birds maintain their strength and energy when flying vast distances? Prior to their journeys, most species consume more food than usual in order to build up layers of fat for energy reserves. Migratory birds often fly in a V-shaped formation (though other formations exist), which makes the journey easier for each individual. The birds in the front work the hardest. Their bodies create a stream of reduced air pressure that allows the birds behind them to glide longer distances without flapping their wings. Usually birds will periodically rotate positions, taking turns at the front to let the front bird catch a break!
What can earthbound humans do to help these amazing migratory bird species? More than you might think!
It's easy to get involved in bird conservation, starting in your own back yard—a likely stopover area for many species. You can help them finish their migratory journey, have a successful nesting season, raise young and survive the winter if you:
Protect Birds from Pets
Outdoor cats can harm birds by disturbing, chasing and even killing them. Keep your cats indoors.
Prevent Window Collisions
Bird-proof your windows by adding screening, shutters or decals to make them more safe and visible.
Restore Natural Bird Habitats
Look for ways to help recreate the habitats that once existed in your area, starting with city parks and open spaces that are natural places for birds.
Buy Bird-Friendly Products
Protect bird habitats in Central and South America by buying shade-grown coffee and chocolate.
Create food sources and nesting sites for local and migrating birds by adding native trees, shrubs and plants to your backyard.
Visit the Websites Below
See how Disney is protecting wildlife and wild places—and how you can help make a difference, too!
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it, is a renewed sense of kinship with the Earth and all its inhabitants.” – Walt Disney