Migration determines where, when, and in which order males and females converge for reproduction. Protandry, the earlier arrival of males relative to females at the site of reproduction, is a widespread phenomenon found in many migratory organisms. Detailed knowledge of the determinants of protandry is becoming increasingly important for predicting how migratory species and populations will respond to rapid phenological shifts caused by climatic change. Here, we review and discuss the potential mechanisms underlying protandrous migration in birds, focusing oil evidence from passerine species. Latitudinal segregation during the non-breeding period and differences in the initiation of spring migration are probably the key determinants of protandrous arrival at the breeding sites, while sexual differences in speed of migration appear to play a minor role. Experimental evidence suggests that differences between the sexes in the onset of spring migratory activity are caused by differences in circannual rhythmicity or by photoperiodic responsiveness. Both of these mechanisms are hardwired and could prevent individuals from responding plastically to chronic changes in temperature at the breeding grounds. As a consequence, adaptive changes in both the timing of arrival in spring and of reproduction will require evolutionary (genetic) changes of the cue-response systems underlying the initiation and extent of migration in both males and females.