Factors influencing fall departure phenology in migratory birds that bred in northeastern North America

Authors: Émile Brisson-Curadeau, Kyle H. Elliott, and Pascal Côté

Year: 2019

Publication: The Auk

Publication Link: https://academic.oup.com/auk/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/auk/ukz064/5612283

Keywords: climate change, migration, phenology

Abstract: The phenology of migrating birds is shifting with climate change. For instance, short-distance migrants wintering in temperate regions tend to delay their migration in fall during spells of warmer temperature. However, some species do not show strong shifts, and the factors determining which species will react to temperature changes by delaying their migration are poorly known. In addition, it is not known whether a slower migration or a postponed departure creates the observed delays in fall migration because most studies occur far south of the boreal breeding areas making it difficult
to separate those 2 mechanisms. We used 22 yr of data at a northern observatory in eastern North America, at the southern edge of the boreal forest, to examine how 21 short-distance migrants responded to changing temperatures. We investigated if those species responding to temperature share life-history features (i.e. diet, size, total migration distance, breeding habitat, timing of migration). The period of migration in each species was, by far, the most important factor predicting the response of a species to temperature. Eight of the 13 species migrating in October changed their migration onset with temperature (usually by delaying migration by 1–2 days/°C), while the migration timing of none of the 8 species migrating in September was dependent on temperature. Furthermore, the absence of a greater migration delay by birds breeding farther from the study site (i.e. Arctic-breeding birds) suggests the mechanism is a postponed departure rather than a slower migration. We conclude that temperature variations in late fall influence the conditions on the breeding grounds, so that birds still present at that time benefit more from postponing their departure in warm weather.


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