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Global Warming Changes Bird Migration Patterns

by Kiah St. Onge-Yergi, Growing Climate Solutions Intern

This past weekend I walked the CREW Marsh Trails with my dog to break-up my self-isolation with a few hours of fresh air. While there, I noticed a surprisingly large number of Woodpeckers and I wondered if it was strange this early in the season. Typically, there is still a significant population of migratory birds lingering about, but then again, it is getting hotter earlier I thought. Later in the week, I came across an article by Bob Berwyn explaining the links between bird migration patterns and global warming trends. Berwyn opens by citing new doctoral research by Dr. Ruth Oliver explaining that, “worm-pulling birds are starting their northward migration about five days earlier per decade, in a race to keep up [with] global warming.” The article published in Environmental Research Letter discusses how birds will often follow the melting snow, and thus food supply, back to breeding areas at the end of winter. If this is the case, is it possible that the birds are leaving earlier because their “maps” are melting sooner? According to Inouye’s 2000 study on Robins, that is accurate. However, before learning their new ques, birds, like any other organism need time to adapt. Learning how compact the snow is as an indication of melting is a process of trial and error. It can lead to an uncomfortable homecoming for some birds if they arrive at breeding areas too soon and then face starvation because insects and food sources have not emerged.

The National Audubon Society has studied the vulnerability of bird species to global warming throughout the US and Canada. In Collier County, there are about 105 bird species present during the summer. But a 2-degree warming scenario would make 14 species moderately or highly vulnerable to losing more than half of their habitable range. Check out their interactive map tool to see more details. Our partners at the Audubon of the Western Everglades provide educational programs and experiences that can help you appreciate the complex environmental conditions that sustain our diverse bird populations during different seasons.

We like to admire birds for their capability to take flight and free themselves of a situation, but we forget that they too are falling victim to the rapidly changing climate. Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done for migratory birds when it is too hot to stay in their winter home, but still too cold to go back from where they came. Surely those of us living or vacationing in Florida can relate to that.


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