The Palaearctic–African migration system comprises enormous numbers of birds travelling between Europe and Africa twice each year. Migratory birds may form strong links between the two continents given they can act as both transport vehicles for parasites and diseases as well as temporary consumers with increased food demand to fuel their flight. Knowing the number of migrating birds is crucial if such links are to be quantified. We estimate that today approximately 2.1 billion songbirds and near-passerine birds migrate from Europe to Africa in autumn, 73% of which are accounted for by just 16 species. This number is only half the estimate from the 1950s in the only other assessment to date. The discrepancy is mainly caused by the limited information on population sizes in the past. Our estimated number of migrants is highly dependent on the accuracy of the underlying estimates of breeding population sizes, as well as breeding parameters in species with relatively high reproductive output. The updated figures quantify and emphasize the strong natural connection between Africa and Europe, which has important implications for manifold research topics including those related to climate change, human health and biological conservation.