Skip to content

Landmark Focus: Following the Fall Migration

PictureFox Sparrow

In the fall, birds really do “fly south for the winter.” Luckily the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are far enough south that a large variety of migratory birds make their way here each year and stay for the winter.  After spending the spring and summer further north, they return to ride out the cold months in Southern California’s balmy Mediterranean climate.
According to The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “birds migrate to move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. The two primary resources being sought are food and nesting locations.”

Migration is primarily about nutrition. Birds that nest in the northern hemisphere migrate to where insects are most abundant and where leafy spring growth provides plenty of good nesting opportunities. When these resources wane and the temperature drops, these birds head back south. This pattern is true for the majority of the more than 650 species that nest in North America. Some species take this to the extreme, migrating thousands of miles from the Arctic all the way to South America and back.

During the winter months in Orange County, the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks experience a substantial increase in bird activity due to these seasonal migrations. Geographical features, such as mountains, deserts, and water often dictate migratory routes for birds as they fly south.  Our location, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ana Mountains, is a naturally occurring bottleneck for many of these migratory routes.  The abundance of seeds, fruits, and insects that occur as a result of winter rains make these lands vitally important for the health and wellbeing of these amazing birds.

“One of the most important things we do is preserve the habitats of the Landmarks to ensure that these bird species and other wildlife have the resources they need to survive,” said Nathan Gregory, Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director of Science and Stewardship. “All of our stewardship activities help restore the lands, providing intact spaces for migratory birds to travel during the winter.”

There are many ways to experience and help birds during their migrations this year.  You can turn to page 38 to find stewardship activities that will help protect, restore, and enhance habitat for the birds, providing more food and nesting locations as they pass through.  You can also find interpretive activities on page 27 that will provide opportunities to learn more about these wonderful animals and experience them first hand.  Log on to and sign up today!