The Flight of the Snowbirds

Today we’ll look at some of the different species of expats making their homes in the Lake Chapala microclimate.

The largest single group are the Snowbirds. These seasonal creatures spend the colder winter months under the bright Jalisco sun, then return North of the Border (NOB) in Spring when the US or Canada becomes more habitable. Snowbirds almost always own a home NOB, which gives them an anchor back to a community there, generally the place they grew up or where they worked as adults. This anchor home comes with all the considerable costs and maintenance of property ownership NOB. As a result, many Snowbirds rent around lakeside, often signing leases for 5-6 months for fully furnished apartments or homes. Some Snowbirds do buy homes lakeside, for the satisfaction of having their own places, the certainty of knowing where they’ll stay, as a hedge for eventually moving full time to Mexico, and because recurring costs (taxes, maintenance) are so low. Snowbirds begin to trickle into the region in October, with a full fledged migration underway by November. Those coming from the coldest areas NOB generally arrive earliest. Snowbird migration doubles 0r triples the size of the local expat population.

The next largest group are the Residentes, an invasive species which has taken up a permanent presence around Lake Chapala. I should have put quotes around “permanent” in the preceding sentence, because this group has several sub-species. There are Residentes who simply put down roots here and stay.  Most buy a home, but there are some who permanently rent and thus move around the various local communities.  There are Residentes who own a home here but use it a base for further travel, either to areas NOB or elsewhere around the globe. There are a few Snowbirds who also practice this non-seasonal, omni-directional migration. The cost-of-living savings available to the Residentes enables different lifestyle patterns. For example, Residentes with means use the saved resources to enable more and better travel; there are also Residentes who make ends meet in a way that would be impossible NOB. Some of these Residentes get by fairly well on a single Social Security check, which would be problematic at best in the US or Canada.

The final and smallest group are the Sunbirds, also known as Sweatbirds or Shadebirds. These rare birds leave the warmer stateside locations (think Florida or Texas) when they get too beastly hot and humid and make for lakeside. Since they visit for a shorter period, they are more likely to rent, but some do own homes. We have only come across two or three of this rarely seen species in our time here.

I bring all this up because the Snowbird migration has begun at Lake Chapala. Traffic (yes, we call it that, even though it’s not much) gets lighter, restaurants don’t require reservations, and the number of volunteers suddenly drops. Our good friends Tom and Linda are Snowbirds from Pennsylvania, and we had a nice farewell dinner at Adelita’s (a great local ribs place) for them. We have visited here at all different times of year, but this is the first time we have been here during a migration, so it will be interesting watching the change occur.

We’ll miss our friends, and we wish them Vaya con Dios. and Hasta Pronto!

I hope you have enjoyed this study of the migratory habits of Lake Chapala expats. In honor of all the various birds, here’s a tune which seems most appropriate:


One thought on “The Flight of the Snowbirds”

  1. Not unlike Florida in the 70’s through the mid 90’s before, “The Great Tax Migration Period”, when masses of uncouth, rude barbarians fled the tax Robber Barron’s of the North Eastern areas of the North American land mass.

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