Flyways and Corridors

Proghorn calf 

Wild animals are always on the move.  They move from place to place in search of food, mates, shelter, water and breeding locations.   Many animals do not have to move far in order to have all their needs met – they can find everything within their local habitat.  

Other animals, such as birds, wolves, and butterflies, require much more space to have all their needs met.  They need more room to move. 

  • Wolves have large territories for hunting and finding mates.
  • Birds will travel long distances in order to find suitable climates and different habitats for breeding and nesting.
  • Caribou and pronghorn walk hundreds of miles between the breeding and feeding grounds.
  • Monarch butterflies fly from Canada to Mexico each autumn to return to their winter feeding grounds after the breeding season. 

Conservationists have to take into account the different spatial needs of wildlife when designing plans to protect them.  They have to think about the territory size, different habitat types and migration routes that wildlife need or use. 

Room to Roam

Gray wolves can have territories from 50 square miles to over a 1,000.  This means that a single wolf pack covers a very large area by itself and defends it against intruders.   For an entire gray wolf population to be healthy and to interbreed, they need thousands of square miles to roam.  That’s a lot of space! 

Currently, many species with large territories, including gray wolves, are threatened because habitat loss and fragmentation have limited their available space.  Roads, fences and buildings cut off habitat and force wildlife into smaller areas.

What is a Wildlife Corridor?

A wildlife corridor is a tract of land that connects different wildlife habitats (refuges, parks, rivers, etc.) that might otherwise be separated by human development.  The corridor can be large, such as a greenway along a river, or small.  An example of a simple wildlife corridor is when developers create a pathway under a highway that allows animals to cross under the road safely. 

Wildlife corridors provide many benefits to wildlife:

  • Wildlife has a better opportunity of finding the basic necessities they need – food, water, shelter and places to raise young. 
  • Animals that require large territories can access new habitats and maintain a healthy territory size.
  • Migratory wildlife can move safely over long distances without having to come into contact with human developments or cars. 
  • Species are more likely to survive disturbance, by having more areas to which they can escape.
  • Wildlife corridors promote genetic biodiversity.  When more individuals of a species are interconnected, the gene pool becomes larger with more viability. 

What about Migratory Birds and Butterflies?

Unlike mammals, birds and butterflies travel from one place to another by flying.

Three hungry barn swallows

Roads and neighborhoods are less of a danger to species that can fly.  Birds and butterflies face different kinds of challenges on their journeys between their summer breeding and winter feeding grounds. 

Birds and butterflies can migrate extremely far – even between different countries.  Sandhill cranes migrate within the United States between Minnesota and Texas each year, while monarch butterflies make the treacherous journey between Mexico and Canada.  Not only do we have to protect the winter and summer habitat, but also key rest stops that migratory wildlife use along the way. 

What are Flyways?

A flyway is a pathway used by migratory birds and insects.  Birds tend to take predictable routes to get from the winter feeding grounds to the summer breeding grounds and back.  Flyways usually occur along coastlines, major rivers and near mountains.  Conservationists can help threatened bird and butterfly populations by protecting habitat along major migratory flyways. 

The United States has four main migratory flyways:

Waterfowler's Guide to Global Warming - Flyways Map
  1. Pacific Flyway – Along the Pacific coast, west of the Rocky Mountains

  2. Central Flyway – Over the Great Plains, east of the Rocky Mountains

  3. Mississippi Flyway – Along the Mississippi River.

  4. Atlantic Flyway – Along the Atlantic coast.  

A great way to help birds and butterflies migrate is by building a Certified Wildlife Habitat® in your backyard or balcony. Learn how to provide a critical resting place and food source to help migratory birds reach their destination. 

>> Learn more about how climate change is impacting birds and waterfowl using these flyways

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