Marine environments are greatly affected by climate change, and understanding how this perturbation affects marine vertebrates is a major issue. In this context, it is essential to identify the environmental drivers of animal distribution. Here, we focused on the little auk (Alle alle), one of the world's most numerous seabirds and a major component in Arctic food webs. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we show how little auks adopt specific migratory strategies and balance environmental constraints to optimize their energy budgets. Miniature electronic loggers indicate that after breeding, birds from East Greenland migrate >2000 km to overwinter in a restricted area off Newfoundland. Synoptic data available from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) indicate that this region harbours some of the highest densities of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus found in the North Atlantic during winter. Examination of large-scale climatic and oceanographic data suggests that little auks favour patches of high copepod abundance in areas where air temperature ranges from 0°C to 5°C. These results greatly advance our understanding of animal responses to extreme environmental constraints, and highlight that information on habitat preference is key to identifying critical areas for marine conservation.