With climate change, birds dash further north

A report found that nearly 60 percent of 305 North American bird species shifted migratory ranges north by an average of 35 miles.

When I arrived home in River Falls, Wis., last Friday night, my father spotted two Trumpeter Swans flying overhead. âÄúTheyâÄôre usually the first ones here,âÄù he said, ducking his head to get a better look. âÄúYup. The Trumpeter Swan: the last to leave in winter and the first to come back in spring.âÄù Spring! I finally can shave the beard, omit myself from Seasonal Affective Disorder and look forward to waking up in the morning. I trust the birds, because they are creatures of innumerable behaviors and genes. They primarily rely on patterns of daylight, or photoperiodism, for their migration cue. When the days begin to shorten and the temperature starts to drop, many experience natural restlessness usually known by its German name, âÄúZugenruhe .âÄù A caged bird during Zugenruhe will jump and flutter in the direction of its migratory travels. Under cloud cover or without sun, the restlessness will prove random and unfettered to migratory paths. Objectivity from the earthâÄôs rotation and season supports my faith in spring and its birds âÄî however, global climate change does not. Scientists have been analyzing migratory trends fir years; and, most recently, the Audubon SocietyâÄôs scientists released their report on birds and climate. Taken from forty years of citizen-science Christmas Bird Count data, the report found that nearly 60 percent of the 305 North American bird species have shifted their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles. The report also indicated that no particular type of species was immune to this northward movement, including over 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds. On the other end of things, the grassland birds had only 38 percent of species exhibit a northward movement âÄî but even this may indicate the grassland species are trapped within their habitat and not suited for translocation. The report did not entirely commit to climate change as the main cause for bird movement, but it did correlate a 5-degree increase in January temperatures during the past 40 years with overall rate of bird population change, independent of latitude. Twice as many birds have moved northward rather than southward, and twice as many have moved inland rather than coastward. Also, an equal number of birds have moved east as moved west. This all supports a climate change model. At my home, the bird feeder swarms with Pine Siskins . This is the first winter theyâÄôve been at our feeders. They devour the niger seeds at a monstrous rate, suggesting a happier plague of locusts. Their molt lately reveals light tints of yellow on the ridge of their wings. The report says they have moved 288 miles north in the past 40 years. Redpolls , little puffs brushed with rosy feathers, came by not too long ago to feast. We havenâÄôt seen them before, either. I hope for spring and its throngs of birds often âÄî it seems that both will arrive earlier and earlier in the coming years for my generation. And as the natural environment succumbs to human hands upon the vacuums of mini-malls and the slams of pavement, the shifting bird populations symbolize a growing need to adapt and change everywhere within humanity. Within our systems of living and governing, there must be a conscious effort to curb global warming and to sustain life for all species, despite whatever sacrifices we must make together. Matt Grimley welcomes comments to [email protected].