Populations of migratory birds differ in their direction of migration with neighbouring populations often migrating in divergent directions separated by migratory divides. A total of 26% of 103 passerine bird species in Europe had migratory divides that were located disproportionately often along a longitudinal gradient in Central Europe, consistent with the assumption of a Quaternary glacial origin of such divides in the Iberian and Balkan peninsulas followed by recolonization. Given that studies have shown significant genetic differentiation and reduced gene flow across migratory divides, we hypothesized that an absence of migratory divides would result in elevated rates of gene flow and hence a reduced level of local adaptation. In a comparative study, species with migratory divides had larger population sizes and population densities and longer dispersal distances than species without migratory divides. Species with migratory divides tended to be habitat generalists. Bird species with migratory divides had higher richness of blood parasites and higher growth rates of Staphylococcus on their eggs during the incubation period. There was weaker cell-mediated immunity in adults and stronger cell lysis in species with migratory divides. These findings may suggest that migratory divides constitute barriers to dispersal with consequences for ecology and evolution of distributions, population sizes, habitats and parasite–host interactions. They also suggest that migratory divides may play a role in local adaptation in host–parasite interactions.