10 of the world's most spectacular migrations

From 11,000km swims across the Pacific to hyperventilation-aided flights across the Himalayas and 500-mile trips to the tundra...
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Swallows nest in Europe each April and May, raising two and sometimes three broods. By September they are ready to return to sub-Saharan Africa. They take six weeks to make the journey south, flying about 200 miles a day. They feed on the wing and overnight en masse at long-standing stopover points.

Common cranes

The crane arrives in its northerly breeding areas in March. The majority of the species migrates south in early September, arriving in their north-east African wintering grounds in October. With a tail wind, the crane can cover 500 miles in a day.

Bar-headed geese

The geese winter in India then fly north over the Himalayas to breeding grounds in Mongolia. They fly higher than any other migrating animal, reaching altitudes of 21,000ft; the species has developed a technique of hyperventilating to best exploit the reduced levels of oxygen available at such altitudes.

Giant fruit bats

Each November, the eight million fruit bats of Democratic Republic of Congo stage Africa's most populous mammal migration by flapping north over the border to Zambia. There they feast on mango, loquat and various berries in Kasanka National Park, leading to one of the continent's great seed dispersals, vital for the ecosystem.



From December to April, the wildebeest remain to the south of the Serengeti, before more one-and-a-half million of them begin an epic clockwise trek to the Maasai Mara and back in search of fresh grasses. Accompanying them are hundreds of thousands of zebra, gazelle… and predators.

Grey whales

Grey whales have the longest-known migration of any mammal. They travel 10,000 to 12,000 miles every year between their winter calving lagoons in the warm waters of Mexico and their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas, where they daily consume as much as 2,400lb of mollusks, worms and plankton.


Thousands of caribou migrate 500 miles north each summer to feed and calve in the abundant grasses of the Arctic tundra. Females depart sooner, often with a yearling calf in tow.

Leatherback turtles

There are several communities of leatherback, the longest voyagers crossing some 7,000 miles across the Pacific to feed, and sexually mature, in the temperate waters off California before returning to breed in the warmer waters of the western Pacific. How they navigate is not clear, though it's thought that a visible spot on the head allows light to the gland which regulates their body clock.

Sandhill cranes

These cranes winter in the American South and Mexico, and nest in Canada. Along the way, they feed in Nebraska from February to April – remarkably, half a million cranes (about 80 per cent of the world's population) gather along an 80-mile section of Nebraska's Platte river.

Humpback whales

Humpback whales feed in Antarctic waters in the Antipodean summer then swim north to calve around eastern Australia. Along the way they exhibit several curious behaviours, including their famous "songs", some of which last for hours, and hunting shoals of fish by surrounding them with exhaled bubbles.

A version of this map graphic and accompanying words appeared in 'You Only Live Once' (Lonely Planet, (£22.99), shop.lonelyplanet.com. additional reporting by Emily Lewis, Olivia Swayne-Atherton and Melissa McFarlane