Protecting the Full Annual Life Cycle

Over thousands of years, bird species have developed specific habitat requirements and unique migratory routes that link them to areas both north and south. Our nine priority southern geographies and their linked habitats in the north provide a structure to help protect the full annual cycle.

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Nine Linked Geographies

Showing simplified migration routes for several priority bird species, this map illustrates how the birds’ habitat requirements link them to specific areas for breeding and wintering.

For example, the Long-billed Curlew uses grasslands in Mexico in winter and grasslands in the American West for breeding.

Black-capped Vireo, Greg Lavaty

Mexican Thorn Scrub

Adapted to living in dry scrubland, the endangered Black-capped Vireo makes its home in Mexico in the winter, returning to Oklahoma and Texas for the breeding season. Rufous Hummingbird and Painted Bunting are two other birds of concern that share this vireo’s winter habitat.

Long-billed Curlew, Bill Hubick

Chihuahuan Grasslands

Crops and cattle grazing have replaced many of the native grasslands of Mexico’s Chihuahuan region, but Long-billed Curlew still return there each winter. They arrive back in the Great Plains and Great Basin in the spring, seeking out short grasses for breeding.

Olive-sided Flycatcher, Greg Homel

Cloud & Pine Oak Forests

A unique ecosystem in Mexico and Central America, these forests only occur at specific elevations. Birds of western coniferous forests like Olive-sided Flycatchers and Hermit Warblers winter here, along with the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, a Texas breeder.

Wood Thrush, Greg Lavaty

Eastern Slope Lowlands

A host of beautiful birds—from Wood Thrush to Eastern Whip-poor-will—can be found together on wintering grounds from Mexico to Costa Rica. Many of the same birds that winter together here use deciduous forests in eastern North America to breed.

Bicknell’s Thrush, Larry Master

Caribbean Forests

Many people think of beaches, but Caribbean islands are also home to forests vital to migratory birds like Bicknell’s Thrush and Black-throated Blue Warbler. Both species return to breed in the northeastern United States and Canada, with Bicknell’s Thrush occupying a very small range of coniferous forest.

American Oystercatcher, Greg Lavaty

Coastal Shore Habitats

Many shorebirds require northern beaches to breed and southern beaches for wintering. Unfortunately, coastal areas are under threat. Of the 51 shorebird species that breed in North America, 22 are declining in population, including American Oystercatcher and Black Skimmer.

Golden-winged Warbler, Barth Schorre

Central & South American Highlands

Golden-winged Warbler is one of many priority birds that winter in these forests. Many Golden-wings make an incredible migration to the Great Lakes region for the breeding season, returning to the Central and South American Highlands in the fall. Cerulean and Canada Warblers are two other species that share these wintering grounds.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Greg Lavaty

Southern Cone

They look delicate, but Buff-breasted Sandpipers make an even more incredible journey, flying from breeding grounds in the Artic to southern South America for the winter. Along the way, they stop to rest and refuel in areas of short grass, including in Bolivia’s Barba Azul Reserve.

Bobolink, Paul Reeves Photographer/Shutterstock

South American Lowlands

In a trip of several thousand miles, the Bobolink travels from grasslands and fields in interior South America to the northern United States and southern Canada to breed. After breeding, Bobolinks use freshwater marshes and coastal areas to molt before making the return trip south.