Recent climatic change is causing spring events in northern temperate regions to occur earlier in the year. As a result, migratory birds returning from tropical wintering sites may arrive too late to take full advantage of the food resources on their breeding grounds. Under these conditions, selection will favour earlier spring arrival that could be achieved by overwintering closer to the breeding grounds. However, it is unknown how daylength conditions at higher latitudes will affect the timing of life cycle stages. Here, we show in three species of Palaearctic-African migratory songbirds that a shortening of migration distance induces an advancement of springtime activities. Birds exposed to daylengths simulating migration to and wintering in southern Europe considerably advanced their spring migratory activity and testicular development. This response to the novel photoperiodic environment will enable birds wintering further north to advance spring arrival and to start breeding earlier. Thus, phenotypic flexibility in response to the photoperiod may reinforce selection for shorter migration distance if spring temperatures continue to rise.