Various factors determine the initiation of migration. In some cases external pressures—temperature, drought, food shortage—alone may cause the animals to seek better conditions. For example, most of the mule deer of Yellowstone Park, Wyo., migrate between summer and winter pastures, but those living near hot springs, where grazing is available all year, do not. In many species migration is initiated by a combination of physiological and external stimuli. In birds the migratory instinct is related to the cycle of enlargement of the reproductive organs in spring and their reduction in fall. Experiments have shown that variation in day length is the chief external stimulus for this cycle: light received by the eye affects production of a hormone by the anterior pituitary gland, which stimulates growth of the reproductive organs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.