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Factors influencing fall departure phenology in migratory birds that bred in northeastern North America

Cite this dataset

Côté, Pascal; Brisson-Curadeau, Émile; Elliott, Kyle (2020). Factors influencing fall departure phenology in migratory birds that bred in northeastern North America [Dataset]. Dryad.


The phenology of migrating birds is shifting with climate change. For instance, short-distance migrants wintering in temperate regions tend to delay their migration in fall
during spells of warmer temperature. However, some species do not show strong shifts, and the factors determining which species will react to temperature changes by delaying their migration are poorly known. In addition, it is not known whether a slower migration or a postponed departure creates the observed delays in fall migration because most studies occur far south of the boreal breeding areas making it difficult to separate those two mechanisms. We used 22 years of data at a northern observatory in eastern North America, at the southern edge of the boreal forest, to examine how 21 short-distance migrants responded to changing temperatures. We investigated if those species responding to temperature share life history features (i.e. diet, size, total migration distance, breeding habitat, timing of migration). The period of migration in each species was, by far, the most important factor predicting the response of a species to temperature. Eight of the 13 species migrating in October changed their migration onset with temperature (usually by delaying migration by 1-2d/°C), while the migration timing of none of the eight species migrating in September was dependent on temperature. Furthermore, the absence of a greater migration delay by birds breeding farther from the study site (i.e. Arctic breeding birds) suggests the mechanism is a postponed departure rather than a slower migration. We conclude that temperature variations in late fall influence the conditions on the breeding grounds, so that birds still present at that time might benefit more from postponing their departure in warm weather.


All data was collected between 1996 and 2017 at the Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac (48.15ºN, 69.66ºW), Québec, Canada. The main observation point is situated 55 m above sea level, on sand dunes surrounded by boreal forest and adjacent to the estuary of the St. Lawrence River. Due to the microhabitat of the dunes being unfavourable for breeding birds, the area is visited mostly by migrating birds passing through. The funnel effect created by the estuary, where birds migrating south follow the shoreline, creates a high density of migrants passing through the region (Ibarzabal 1999), The open habitat of the dunes, cleared from vegetation every year, facilitates detection for observers. Stationary observations were carried out daily by at least one experienced birdwatcher from August 24 to November 25 in each year. The observations started approximately one hour after sunrise and lasted five hours or more depending on the migration flow. Only heavy rain or snow prematurely ended the observations


Environment and Climate Change Canada

Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs