Sentinels of Changing Spring

An American robin carrying a GPS unit as part of a study to understand how migratory birds are navigating increasingly dynamic landscapes at high northern latitudes. (Photo credit: Brian Weeks)

A new study published in Environmental Research Letters and highlighted in Newsweek finds that American robins, North America’s most recognizable songbird, are shifting their spring migration timing through the Canadian boreal forest earlier by approximately 5 days per decade. The study, led by BGC Postdoc Ruth Oliver as part of her doctorate work at Columbia University, tracked 55 robins over 3 years (2016-2018) using GPS units and found that robins adjusted their migration behavior to snow conditions en route to their breeding grounds. These findings suggest that plasticity in migratory behavior may be an important mechanism for how migratory birds are adjusting their migration to keep pace with climate change. 

The study is available here.

Coverage in Newsweek is available here

For more information on the project, a field blog aimed at elementary students is available here.