No More Migration?

by kespeland on September 11, 2009

Some bird species once commonly found in Kentucky and surrounding states are moving farther north each year, according to the Audubon Society. Take the Red-breasted Merganser, for example. This fish-eating duck, the society says, has moved its range northward over the past 40 years more than 300 miles. They’re apparently more abundant in Minnesota now than they once were here. The reason? Climate change.

Even more striking is the news from the U.S. Geological Survey that a large percentage of a sea bird population that once wintered in Mexico is now staying put in Alaska, where, apparently, it’s warm enough to stick around.  From the USGS release:

“The winter distribution of Pacific brant, a small, dark sea goose, has shifted northward from low-temperate areas such as Mexico to sub-Arctic areas as Alaska’s climate has warmed over the last four decades, according to a just-released article in Arctic.

“Until recently, nearly the entire (90 percent) population of Pacific brant wintered in Mexico, but now as many as to 30 percent are opting to spend their winters in Alaska instead, according to the U.S. Geological Survey-led study. Although records are sparse, fewer than 3,000 brant were detected wintering in Alaska before 1977, a number that has jumped to as many as 40,000 birds now. “

Who knows what kind of wider implications these shifts in range – and changes in migration patterns – could have, not only on local ecosystems, but the ecosystems in which birds play a role while on winter vacation?

Citizen scientists can help track data like this, such as the first sighting of a particular bird in your area. See my story on phenology to learn about local efforts to track species’ appearances.

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