Spring migration phenology of birds in the Northern Prairie region is correlated with local climate change

  • Swanson D
  • Palmer J
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In apparent response to recent periods of global warming, some migratory birds now arrive earlier at stopover sites and breeding grounds. However, the effects of this warming on arrival times vary among locations and species. Migration timing is generally correlated with temperature, with earlier arrival during warm years than during cold years, so local variation in climate change might produce different effects on migration phenology in different geographic regions. We examined trends in first spring arrival dates (FADs) for 44 species of common migrant birds in South Dakota (1971–2006) and Minnesota (1964–2005) using observations compiled by South Dakota and Minnesota Ornithologists’ Unions. We found significant trends in FAD over time for 20 species (18 arriving earlier and two later) in South Dakota and 16 species (all earlier) in Minnesota. Of these species, 10 showed similar significant trends for both states. All 10 of these species exhibited significantly earlier arrival, and all were early spring migrants, with median FADs before 10 April in both states. Eighteen of the 44 species showed significant negative correlations of FADs with either winter (December–February) or spring (arrival month plus previous month) temperatures in one or both states. Interestingly, spring temperatures in both South Dakota and Minnesota did not warm significantly from 1971–2006, but winter temperatures in both states warmed significantly over the same time period. This suggests that the warmer winters disproportionately affected early spring migrants, especially those associated with aquatic habitats (seven of the 10 species showing significantly earlier spring arrival in both states). The stronger response to climate change by early spring migrants in our study is consistent with the results of several other studies, and suggests that migrants, especially early migrants, are capable of responding to local temperature conditions experienced on wintering grounds or along the migration route.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Climate change
  • Migration arrival
  • Migration timing
  • Minnesota
  • South Dakota

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  • David L. Swanson

  • Jeffrey S. Palmer

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