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Not All Migrating Birds Adjusting to Climate Change, Report Says

Some birds are adjusting their migration patterns and adapting to climate change better than others, researchers found.

A study of bird flight patterns found that while some shift their migration as much as six days earlier in warmer weather, others are keeping the same habits, according to a report in the Public Library of Science.

Birds that aren’t adapting, like the Barn Swallow, could be threatened if the crop of insects they feed on aren’t available at the same time, for example, said Allen Hurlbert, the lead author, in a telephone interview.

“This is a new threat,” said Hurlbert, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It’s an additional risk factor for the health of their population.”

Hurlbert’s study of 18 bird species is the first to examine the entire Eastern United States, he said. It’s also unique in using citizen bird watching data from more than 50,000 people logging into eBird, an online site created in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audobon Society.

On average, the birds shifted their migration almost a day earlier for every Celsius degree of warming spring temperature. Species that fail could be eliminated through natural selection.

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