Climate Change is Affecting Bird Migration

Author: Brianna Nee

Editor: Shirley Chen

Artists: Susan Wu

I’m sure we all remember seeing birds fly in their v-formation when the weather starts to change. In school, we learn that birds migrate to combat the seasons. They fly to warmer climates in the winter and migrate back. Climate change impacts the migration patterns of birds.

Some researchers believe that the warming climate is leading to changes in migration paths. Birds that typically migrate south for overwintering are moving west. Richard’s pipits will normally move south from Siberia to Southern Asia for the winter, but recent research has shown that some will reside in France for the winter. Possible causes of this change include increased preference for Southern Europe due to warmer weather conditions in Europe and growing urban areas unsuitable for pipits.

Scientists also observed changes in migration spans. Birds are now spending less time in their summer locations. A study that looked at 50 years of data found that birds who typically migrated to Africa for the winter arrived later and left earlier. This could be because there are more resources in their breeding grounds throughout the summer, so there is less incentive to migrate before those supplies deplete. This could affect birds that do not migrate because there is more competition for resources from migrating birds. It could also lead to longer breeding seasons because birds are staying for longer periods in their summer homes.

Research has also shown that spring migration occurs earlier. This is corroborated by a study published in Nature Climate Change by Kyle Horton of Colorado State University that found that hundreds of migrating bird species are migrating about two days earlier each decade due to rising temperatures. Using a neural network that could analyze both data in climate and migration patterns, they found that the change in the climate caused unusual migration times. Although a relationship has been established, different causes contribute.

For instance, rising temperatures may affect the growth of food birds typically eat.

Regardless of how the migration pattern or periods are changing, there still seems to be a strong link between climate change and changes in bird migration. Although birds may appear to adapt to climate change, there are still concerns. Rapid climate change affects a variety of factors in the environment, many of which directly and indirectly affect birds, and some birds either cannot adapt to those changes or cannot adapt fast enough to avoid severe consequences. As we analyze how climate change impacts human life and health, we should also look out for our bird friends.

 

Citations

Gamillo, Elizabeth. “Bird Migration Patterns Are Changing-and Climate Change May Be to

Blame.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Nov. 2021,

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/bird-migration-patterns-are-changing-

and-climate-change-may-be-to-blame-180979054/.

Harvey, Chelsea. “Millions of Birds Are Migrating Earlier Because of Warming.” Scientific

American, Scientific American, 17 Dec. 2019,

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/millions-of-birds-are-migrating-earlier-

because-of-warming/.

Kobilinsky, Dana. “Climate Warming Changes Bird Migration Timing and Body Size.” The

Wildlife Society, 29 Sept. 2021,

https://wildlife.org/climate-warming-changes-bird-migration-timing-and-body-size/.

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