Long-distance migrations are among the wonders of the natural world, but this multitaxon review shows that the characteristics of species that undertake such movements appear to make them particularly vulnerable to detrimental impacts of climate change. Migrants are key components of biological systems in high latitude regions, where the speed and magnitude of climate change impacts are greatest. They also rely on highly productive seasonal habitats, including wetlands and ocean upwellings that, with climate change, may become less food-rich and predictable in space and time. While migrants are adapted to adjust their behaviour with annual changes in the weather, the decoupling of climatic variables between geographically separate breeding and nonbreeding grounds is beginning to result in mistimed migration. Furthermore, human land-use and activity patterns will constrain the ability of many species to modify their migratory routes and may increase the stress induced by climate change. Adapting conservation strategies for migrants in the light of climate change will require substantial shifts in site designation policies, flexibility of management strategies and the integration of forward planning for both people and wildlife. While adaptation to changes may be feasible for some terrestrial systems, wildlife in the marine ecosystem may be more dependent on the degree of climate change mitigation that is achievable.