How Does Climate Change Affect Bird Migration – More than 350 species of birds are counted on the Pacific Flyway each year. Credit: Davis Farms / John Brennan
Every spring, migratory birds from South and Central America come to the United States (USA). But exactly when they arrive each spring varies from year to year. In a NASA-led study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, scientists correlated these variables with large-scale patterns thousands of miles away.
- 1 How Does Climate Change Affect Bird Migration
- 2 Migrating Birds Can’t Keep Up With An Earlier Spring In A Changing Climate
- 3 Birds Adapt Their Behavior For Climate Change — But Is It Too Little, Too Late?
- 4 Science In Brief: From Climate Change Speeding Up Bird Migration To The Benefit Of Sending Thank You Notes
How Does Climate Change Affect Bird Migration
Migratory birds benefit ecosystems by helping control pests, pollinate plants, and serve as food for other wildlife. The more land managers know about the current migration patterns of these birds and the migration patterns that may evolve in the future due to change, the better they can direct their efforts to protect the birds and restore and preserve their habitat. This study brings them one step closer to that goal.
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Every spring, migratory birds from South and Central America come to the United States (USA). But exactly when they arrive each spring varies from year to year. To better understand what variability is, scientists decided to turn to models, radar stations, and a little math. By studying the connection between bird patterns and migration, scientists can be better prepared to protect these birds and the habitats they rely on. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
To determine the variability in bird arrival times each spring, scientists analyzed 23 years of bird migration data collected by NOAA’s Next Generation Radar system, a network of 143 radar stations across the continental United States. This is where they made their first discovery: The United States can be divided into two regions, eastern and western, each with different bird arrival times.
The eastern region includes all areas east of longitude 102 degrees west; this is a line that divides North Dakota and runs through Texas in the United States. The western region covers all regions west of this line.
Bird migration in the United States is followed by four major “flights” or migratory routes, two in the eastern United States and two in the western United States. New research shows that there are different effects in each half of the country, affecting the timing of environmental cues such as temperature and weather conditions that encourage birds to move along their routes.
Migrating Birds Can’t Keep Up With An Earlier Spring In A Changing Climate
“Our approach does not replace ‘flight paths’ but rather provides a different geographic framework that reflects the annual variability of bird migration at the continental scale,” said lead author Amin Dezfuli, scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. ” study author. “This framework helps us better understand how patterns affect large-scale bird movements and migration variability.”
The science team analyzed both meteorological and modeling data to determine what was causing the changes in bird migration in each of these newly identified regions. They found that variability in the western region depends on regional air temperature and the sea surface in the adjacent (Pacific) Ocean. For example, in 2005, temperatures in the region were above average, causing birds to arrive above average.
But they found that variability in the eastern region was strongly linked to large-scale atmospheric disturbances called Rossby waves. Rossby waves are caused by the Earth’s rotation and geography. They help transport warm air from the tropics and cold polar air to lower latitudes. These currents, flowing from east to west, can be thousands of kilometers long and affect weather and patterns.
“Using the data, we were able to connect bird migration patterns, particularly in the eastern United States, to Rossby waves,” Dezfuli said. “Rossby waves can be launched into the tropical Pacific thousands of kilometers away and propagate into the United States, providing the climate conditions we associate with bird migration patterns.”
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Because Rossby waves can be as horizontal as the country itself, a crest in the west can bring warm temperatures to that area, while low-pressure waves in the east can simultaneously bring cooler temperatures and storms to the eastern region. This ultimately affects bird migration in both regions.
“Knowing the timing of migration is fundamental to our overall understanding of migration systems,” said co-author and biologist Kyle Horton of Colorado State University. “This study adds an important new dimension to this understanding by highlighting how migration systems are linked to near and distant atmospheric circulation.”
“Now that we have established site-specific relationships between species and birds’ migration patterns, we can examine potential changes in migration patterns based on future scenarios,” Dezfuli said. said.
The more scientists and stakeholders know about the effects of change on bird migration, the better prepared they can be to protect these birds and the habitats they rely on. It’s not news that climate change is affecting our natural environment, but what does this mean for birds, migration patterns and sustainable biodiversity? Why are birds still migrating as winters get warmer? What made them migrate in the first place?
Birds Adapt Their Behavior For Climate Change — But Is It Too Little, Too Late?
Growing up, you probably learned about animal migration in science class. For many of us (myself included!) it’s been a few years and a lot about migration patterns has changed since then.
Migration is the process of moving from an area with fewer resources to a region with more resources. Especially when talking about animals and birds, these resources are often feeding and nesting areas. As weather cools, food and nesting resources become scarce, encouraging birds to migrate south to warmer climates and develop temporary homes with more accessible resources.
Birds migrate to reduce threats to their habitat. When resources become scarce, competition increases among all species for the same resources. During the nesting season, birds need access to abundant resources so that they can properly care for their young or chicks and provide them with a safe environment in which to grow. Increased competition in these cold regions also means that birds and their birds will become easy targets for cats, birds, other birds, snakes, frogs, dogs, deer, coyotes and many other predators.
Not all birds migrate. In fact, about 20% of all bird species migrate for food and breeding. The most common pattern has the birds flying north to breed in March and April and returning to warmer areas in the south in September and October.
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Some bird species do not migrate because they can find sufficient food and nest resources where they are. There is a common misconception that birds cannot withstand the cold, which is incorrect. Many birds actually thrive in cooler climates, often those that rely on seeds as their primary food source. In North America, cardinals and sparrows, among others, are non-migratory and can survive on resources close to home.
Although this question has been researched by scientists for years, there is no concrete answer. But scientists have found that migration can occur through a combination of changes in day length, lower temperatures, changes in food requirements and genetic predisposition, all of which depend on the bird species and its needs.
Threats to bird migration have increased and are increasing over the years. Bird migrations are one of the longest journeys made by any animal and present many dangers along the way. They are increasingly threatened by human activities, from plastic pollution to climate change.
Researchers analyzed 12 years of data to examine how climate change affects bird species. They found that “climate change will drive hundreds of bird species to extinction, greatly reducing the habitat of others and already affecting species richness and composition.” They ultimately found that bird species were unable to adapt effectively to climate change and that there was a lack of adaptation to changing vegetation.
Science In Brief: From Climate Change Speeding Up Bird Migration To The Benefit Of Sending Thank You Notes
One effect we can foresee is increased competition for bird species, regardless of whether they are migratory or not. We are seeing warmer winters in many places with traditionally cold winter weather. Birds living in these areas may begin the migration process at a later time when the weather begins to cool, but in the meantime, species in that area will continue to compete for resources. If they arrive late at their migration sites, they may experience some difficulty in obtaining sufficient food and nesting resources to properly care for their young due to increased competition with other species.
Climate and habitat change is a threat to bird species and even entire species. We can predict that competition between bird species will increase or even become extinct.
In the same research study, the authors wrote, “Although birds have had to adapt to climate changes and resulting mismatches with resources throughout their evolutionary history, the current rate and magnitude of change exceeded normal limits.” they ask the question.
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