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Inside the migratory habits of billionaires

Billionaires are a bit like migratory birds. They soar high above the earth, they often like to flash bright colors, and increasingly they move in large and noisy flocks.

Like a swarm of Gulfstreams, the world's super rich flit from one velvet-roped gathering and thought conference to the next, with occasional stops at the beach or ski slopes in between.

An attendee poses for a photograph in front of a 1934 Alfa 8C2300 Zagato Body during the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance in Pebble Beach, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An attendee poses for a photograph in front of a 1934 Alfa 8C2300 Zagato Body during the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance in Pebble Beach, California.

"They're like a global tribe or herd," said David Friedman, president of Wealth-X, the wealth research firm. "The herd migrates to certain places. Sometimes some of them break off and diverge, and then reconverge. But there are the usual suspects in many of these places."

According to Wealth-X, the billionaire's social calendar starts in Davos in January, for the annual gathering of the super rich and powerful known as the World Economic Forum.

After Davos, the billionaire migration goes to the Winter Olympics in Russia, then to the Dubai World Cup horse racing extravaganza. Then it's on to the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix in May. As the weather warms up, they will head to Art Basel in Switzerland and the Clinton Global Initiative, before rounding out at the Frieze Art Fair in London in October.

(Read more: Olympics: Going for the gold, spending in the red )

The Billionaire Migration

Wealth-X doesn't highlight the leisure spots. But a look at private jet traffic and yacht dockings shows that many of the world's billionaires touch down in the Caribbean during the winter, especially St. Barth's, with a possible stop in Aspen or St. Moritz during the end of ski season.

In the summer, it's off to the Mediterranean or the Hamptons.

Friedman said that some billionaires venture off the migration path for particular "passions." The super rich who buy thoroughbreds, for instance, gather at the Keeneland yearling auction in September. Car collectors gather at Pebble Beach in August for the Concours D'Elegance. And art buyers make sure they're in New York for the spring and fall sales and in London for the summer sale.

(Read more: Highlights from the Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance)

"Not everyone just follows the same path," he said. "You have branches of the migration based on affinities."

Still, the migratory patterns of today's billionaires show how the super rich have developed their own self-contained global loop—with many of the same people going to the same gilded events far removed from the rest of the world. It is a movable feast of the top 0.01 percent, a further sign that the very wealthy from around the world now have more in common with each other than they do with people from their own country.

Richistan, in other words, is now the world's richest, pop-up country—with its accompanying fleet of Gulfstream G550s, black Escalades, personal chefs, assistants, nannies and trainers.

"Some of them are looking for a community, and the best way to find it is people in a similar situation," Friedman said. "So you get this ebb and flow where people are coming into and out of this migration."

(Read more: Billionaires flip their super jets)

The billionaires' migration path is also a sign of how the values of the rich have changed. Rather than pursuing leisure as their main objective, today's workaholic wealthy are foraging the planet for self-improvement and the best ideas—whether it's at conferences or auctions, or elite sporting events and philanthropy workshops.

"There is a very important philanthropic focus to where they go," Friedman said. "It's more about philanthropic tourism than just enjoyment."

By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.