FEBRUARY 20, 2020
A growing body of research shows that birds' spring migration has been getting earlier and earlier in recent decades. New research from The Auk: Ornithological Advances on Black-throated Blue Warblers, a common songbird that migrates from Canada and the eastern U.S. to Central America and back every year, uses fifty years of bird-banding data to add another piece to the puzzle, showing that little-studied fall migration patterns have been shifting over time as well.
Loyola Marymount University's Kristen Covino and her colleagues used data housed at the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory on migrating Black-throated Blue Warblers between 1965 and 2015. Across the United States, researchers working with this program safely capture migrating birds, collect data on them, and fit them with metal leg bands with unique codes that allow them to be identified if they're captured again. Analyzing almost 150,000 individual records, Covino and her colleagues found that the timing of the birds' spring migration has advanced over the last fifty years, with early migrants passing through banding sites approximately one day earlier each decade. Crucially, their data also covered fall migration, which has been less well-studied, and found that while the timing of the peak of fall migration hasn't changed, fall migration takes longer today than it did fifty years ago.