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Bird Migration

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and similar ones do not, whether the benefits outweigh the risks and how they navigate across oceans.

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?


Barbara Helm
Reader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow

Tim Guilford
Professor of Animal Behaviour and Tutorial Fellow of Zoology at Merton College, Oxford


Richard Holland
Senior Lecturer in Animal Cognition at Bangor University

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

51 minutes

Last on

Thu 18 Jun 2020 21:00


Barbara Helm at the University of Glasgow

Tim Guilford at the University of Oxford

Richard Holland at Bangor University

How Do Birds Navigate? - National Geographic Society

Oxford Navigation Group - Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Migrant Landbird Study Group

Migration and the ecology of migrants – British Trust for Ornithology

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

‘Migration and stopover in a small pelagic seabird, the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus: insights from machine learning’ by T. Guilford, J. Meade, J. Willis, R.A. Phillips, D. Boyle, S. Roberts, M. Collett, R. Freeman, C.M. Perrins - Proceedings of the Royal Society (2009)

‘A dispersive migration in the Atlantic Puffin, and its implications for migratory navigation’ by Tim Guilford, Robin Freeman, Dave Boyle, Ben Dean, Holly Kirk, Richard Phillips, Chris Perrins – PLOS One (2011)

‘Migratory Restlessness in an Equatorial Nonmigratory Bird’ by Barbara Helm and Eberhard Gwinner - PLOS Biology (2006)

Bird Migration – Wikipedia



Tim Birkhead, The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology (Bloomsbury, 2011)

James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti, Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics (Particular Books, 2016)

Hugh Dingle, Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press, 2014)

James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould, Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation (Princeton University Press, 2012)

Janice Hughes, The Migration of Birds: Seasons on the Wing (Firefly Books, 2009)

Ian Newton, Bird Migration (HarperCollins, 2010)

Ian Newton, The Migration Ecology of Birds (Academic Press, 2007)

Chris Wernham, Mike Toms, John Marchant, Jacquie A. Clark, Gavin Siriwardena and Stephen Baillie (eds), The Migration Atlas: Movements of the Birds of Britain and Ireland (Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd, 2002)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Barbara Helm
Interviewed Guest Tim Guilford
Interviewed Guest Richard Holland
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 6 Jul 2017 09:00
  • Thu 6 Jul 2017 21:30
  • Thu 18 Jun 2020 09:00
  • Thu 18 Jun 2020 21:00

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