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Migrating birds are showing up in areas much earlier than they would have 20 years ago, as a result of rapid climate change, according to a new report led by Colorado State University with scientists from Cornell and the University of Massachusetts.
Report lead author Kyle Horton at CSU said the timing of when and where birds land for critical food and rest have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years.
“And the changes that we’re seeing are quite rapid, and recent, so that linkage between resources, the things that they’re eating, and when they come through is shifting,” he said. “Whether or not birds can match them is really at the heart of the question here.”
Horton said the danger is that birds might land too early or too late, and miss out on hatching insects, blossoming flowers and fruiting trees. If birds can’t find places to stop and refuel, they could run out of energy and not be able to reach critical spring mating habitat.
The CSU study comes on the heels of reports that nearly 3 billion North American birds have been lost since 1970, in part due to habitat lost to human development. In just the past decade, the number of birds migrating in spring has dropped by 14%. Horton said something as simple as turning off outside lights, while it won’t stop climate change, is one concrete way individuals can help.
“These birds are migrating at night. The lights distract the birds; it can disorient them,” he said. “Any disorientation or distraction en route can hinder these birds.”
Horton said an interactive tool for monitoring bird migration at birdcast.info shows when birds are on the move and when they’re passing through your area, in case folks want to stock up their bird feeders and turn off security lights for a few days.
The report is online at nature.com.
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