Two billion birds migrate over Gulf Coast: earliest seasonal movements are starting 1.5 days sooner per decade, though peak activity timing hasn’t changed

Cornell University Read full ScienceDaily article here

Kyle G. Horton et al. Holding steady: Little change in intensity or timing of bird migration over the Gulf of MexicoGlobal Change Biology, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14540

A new study combining data from citizen scientists [eBird] and weather radar stations is providing detailed insights into spring bird migration along the Gulf of Mexico and how these journeys may be affected by climate change. Findings on the timing, location, and intensity of these bird movements have been published. …

…. “We calculated that an average of 2.1 billion birds crosses the entire length the Gulf Coast each spring as they head north to their breeding grounds. Until now, we could only guess at the overall numbers from surveys done along small portions of the shoreline.”

…Knowing where and when peak migration occurs means efforts can be made to turn off lights and wind turbines, which are known threats to migratory birds.

Migration timing is also critical for birds. Although migration has evolved in the past as climates changed, the current rate of change may be too rapid for birds to keep pace. This study shows that the earliest seasonal movements are starting sooner, advancing by about 1.5 days per decade, though peak activity timing hasn’t changed, which may be cause for concern. These findings provide important baseline information that will allow scientists to assess the long-term implications of climate change for migratory birds.

“If birds aren’t changing their migration timing fast enough to match the timing for plants and insects, that’s alarming,” Horton says. “They may miss out on abundant resources on their breeding grounds and have less reproductive success.”

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