Climate change is impacting bird migration patterns. Here’s what we know | CBC News

The Prairies Climate Change Project is a joint initiative between CBC Edmonton and CBC Saskatchewan that focuses on weather and our changing climate. Meteorologist Christy Climenhaga brings her expert voice to the conversation to help explain weather phenomena and climate change and how they impact everyday life.

Spring is here and that means that birds are resuming their biannual international flights. 

In Canada, almost three-quarters of our birds are migratory.

While some of these birds, like warblers and orioles, travel incredible distances to South America, others stay closer and escape the cold in the United States – our robins, blackbirds and waterfowl like mallards. 

Migration is something we can count on in Canada, but as our average temperatures rise and we see more extremes in weather, our winged friends are not immune to the changes. 

So how has climate change altered migration on the Prairies so far, and what can we expect in the future?

Alberta’s trends

Albertans are no strangers to cold weather, and many of our bird species leave in the winter months for warmer climates.

“Only the hardiest birds like magpies and even though they’re tiny, chickadees, have ways to cope with the cold,” said Geoff Holroyd, chair of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory east of Tofield, Alta.

“There’s several hundred species that migrate.”

Peregrine falcons are among Alberta’s migratory birds, leaving for Mexico and South America in the winter and returning in the spring. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Those migratory birds will take cues from local weather or daylight hours to know when to migrate south and when to return, depending on how far they have to go. 

Their paths may be influenced by mountains, rivers, cities and inclement weather. 

But as our climate changes, those migration patterns are being interrupted. 

“[Some] birds are arriving earlier because of our earlier spring temperatures … our mountain bluebirds are now arriving 19 days earlier than they did 60 years ago,” said Holroyd, who has been studying Alberta’s birds for about four decades.

And in the fall, Holroyd said he has noticed later trends with birds leaving.

“Saw-whet owls that we catch at our Beaverhill Bird Observatory are migrating late … one and a half days …


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