Bird Migration & the Changing Climate

There is no doubt the fact that global warming is affecting our natural ecosystem But what is this going to mean for the birds their migration patterns, as well as longevity of biodiversity? As winter gets warmer but why aren’t birds migration? What is it that makes them to migrate in the first instance?

When you were a kid, you might have been taught about the process of migration during your science class. In the case of many, it was quite a number of years (myself too!) and there has been a lot of change in the way we move since the time I was born.

What does “migration” mean and why do birds migrate?

The process of migration is shifting from an area with less resources to one with abundant resources. In the case of animals and birds in particular they are frequently nesting sites and food sources. As the temperature gets colder the resources for food and building nests become scarce and encourage birds to head south for warmer temperatures and to build temporary homes that are more easily accessible to sources.

Birds migrate in order to lessen dangers to their natural habitat. When resources are depleted and competition increases between all species to share similar resources. In the time of nesting season for birds it is crucial that they be able to access a wide range of resources to properly take care of their hatchlings, or chicks and give them with a safe habitat to raise them in. The greater competition in these areas of colder temperatures could make it more likely that the birds and their chicks will be attractive prey for predators such as chipmunks, cats, species of birds, snakes, frogs as well as dogs, deer coyotes, and a myriad of others.

Does every bird migrate?

Not the majority of birds travel. Actually, 20% of birds migrate to search for food sources and also to breed. The most typical pattern has birds heading to the north during March-April in order to breed before returning to warmer areas in the south between the months of September and October.

Some species of birds don’t move because they have adequate nesting and food resources in the area they’re currently. It is commonly believed that birds aren’t able to withstand frigid temperatures, but this is not true. A lot of birds prefer colder environments, especially those who depend on seeds as their main food source. For North America, cardinals and sparrows among others are the only birds that don’t move and can thrive on the local resources near to their home.

(c) Alek

What do birds know when they should migrate?

While this issue has been studied by scientists for years and still, there is no definitive solution. But, researchers have discovered that migration is triggered by a variety of factors, including variations in the length of days or shorter days, changes in temperatures, changes in food supply and genetic predisposition all of which depend on the species of bird and their requirements.

What do climate changes affect migration patterns of birds?

There have been a number of threats to the bird migration process in the past, and the threat is only going to get worse. Migrations of birds are among the longest travel routes taken by animals, and they face numerous dangers along the journey. In addition to plastic pollution, they face climate changes, they are constantly at risk from human activity.

In a study of 2017 released in Scientific Reports The researchers looked at 12 years of records looking at the ways that climate change affects the bird species. They concluded that “climate change is predicted to cause hundreds of bird species towards loss and drastically limit the range of other species as well as affecting the diversity of species and their composition.” Already they observed the bird species were unable to adapt to the changing climate and that there was a lack of adaption to changes in vegetation.

One of the effects we can expect is an increase in competition for birds regardless of whether they migrate or not. There has been warmer winters in several typically cold winter climates. The birds that reside in these locations could begin their migration at a later time when the weather starts to become colder, however the species that inhabit the region will continue to battle for resources. If they arrive at their destination late, they could encounter difficulties in finding enough food or nesting material to provide adequate provide for their young due to the increased competition with other species.

(c) Elisabeth Kruger / WWF-US

What do these mean for the bird population and the biodiversity of birds?

Changes in environment and climate are posing a threat for bird species, and all species , for that matter. There is a possibility of more competition among species of birds and even the possibility of the extinction of some species.

In the same study, the researcher noted, “Although birds have had to adjust to climate shifts and the resulting asynchronies with resources throughout their evolution The pace and extent of changes are beyond normal limits and raises the question of whether the migratory bird populations are in a position to keep up with key phenological changes.” This implies the birds are adapting to changes in conditions since time began, however it is changing dramatically more quickly than in the past, placing birds at risk of not being able to keep up.

The author went on to say that “We discovered that the majority of the species of birds that migrate changed the date of their arrival, generally with respect to the time (earlier than later) that the greening of vegetation changed. So, it is evident that the phenology associated with migratory arrival is usually adapting to climate change.” That’s great news! This indicates that many species of birds that migrate are capable of adapting to climate change and to migrate at a frequency that is logical to their survival.

There is definitely not all bad news as birds are actually a highly adaptable species. But, it is crucial to be ready for the anticipated changes caused by the changing climate and make every effort to reduce the impact of these dramatic changes.

What can you do to assist?

Although no one person will be capable of saving the whole bird species but you can have an impact! Here are some ways you can help save birds:

  • Contribute to WWF
  • Bird watching and migrations are available on a variety of our trips starting with our adventures with the penguins in Antarctica and a range of songbirds found in Yellowstone
  • Purchase or construct the bird feeder. By filling it with high-calorie snack items (sunflower seeds, seeds of oats raisins, etc.) can keep birds happy and energized for their journey. Even if there isn’t feeders, you can sprinkle these treats on your yard or on your porch.

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