Pin Me

Interesting Facts About Desert Animal Migration

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 7/12/2010

Do animals migrate from the desert? How do they survive high temperatures, diminished food supplies, and lack of fresh drinking water? Some migrate, some estivate, and others adapt to their environment. Let’s examine different types of desert animals to see how they survive arid desert summers.

  • slide 1 of 6

    Why do animals migrate from the desert? Animals migrate in response to seasonal climate changes, seeking the most favorable climates. Their food supplies may dwindle or die out, forcing them to seek other food sources. Some species must migrate to breed in a specific location or environment. Desert animals may migrate, estivate, adapt, or migrate and estivate, depending on their species and climate, food, and breeding requirements.

  • slide 2 of 6

    Animal Desert Migration

    Many desert animals migrate, or move to other areas, to escape temperature extremes and dwindling food and water supplies in their home regions. For instance, almost everyone is familiar with the seasonal north-south migratory habits of birds. Did you know that desert birds also use adaptations, like flying above the heat, to keep cool?

    Desert Animal Migration Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/GNU Free Documentation License/Moongateclimber

    Some other adaptations of migrating birds are night flights to avoid overheating, and short refueling flights with periods of rest to conserve energy levels. Some desert birds and animals that migrate are:

    • Northern cardinals
    • Greater roadrunners
    • Blue grosbeaks
    • Summer tanagers
    • Western tanagers
    • Grebes
    • Zebra
    • Wildebeest

    Next, let's examine some desert animals who estivate (desert hibernation.)

  • slide 3 of 6

    Desert Animal Estivation

    Animal Migration Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Desert animals who do not migrate or develop an environmental adaptation practice a form of hibernation called estivation. They enter a dormant, or resting state, during the hot summer months, usually in the cool confines of a cave or burrow. They eat tremendous amounts of food before seeking a resting place and are normally awakened by hunger or climate changes.

    Desert animals that estivate:

    • Spadefoot toad
    • Desert tortoise
    • Desert squirrel
    • Silver-haired bat
    • Pallid bat
    • Townsend’s big-eared bat

    What happens to desert animals who do not migrate or estivate?

  • slide 4 of 6

    Desert Animal Adaptations

    Other animals, especially smaller animals, make adaptations to cope with the challenges of their environment. They may shelter in caves or hide under rocks during the heat of the day, and then forage for food at night. Their coats or feathers may be light colored to help keep them cool. Some animals, like the Black-tailed jackrabbit, develop extra large ears that help them to regulate their body temperature. Others, like various bat species, grow long tongues to help them suck the nectar from plants. Almost everyone is familiar with the camel's adaptation for desert survival - the hump.

    About Desert Animal Migration Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/GNU Free Documentation License/de:Benutzer: BS Thurner Hof

  • slide 5 of 6

    Desert Animals who Migrate and Estivate

    Finally, there are animals that migrate and estivate. They travel to other locations in the winter, and then return to the desert. During the hottest summer months, they shelter in cool caves or burrows to escape the heat and rest. Some examples of animals that migrate and estivate are:

    About Animal Migration Wikimedia Commons/Western Red Bat/Public Domain

    • Cave myotis bat
    • Western red bat
    • Western pipistrelle bat

    Do animals migrate from the desert? Yes, some do migrate to find more favorable climates, food supplies, or to perpetuate their species, while others adapt or estivate. The remarkable thing is how each species knows how and when to make a seasonal adjustment for their survival.

  • slide 6 of 6


    Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum, Migration, accessed 07/07/2010

    Desert USA, “Migration – Birds – Butterflies," David Williams, accessed 07/20/2010