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Spring arrival of birds depends on the North Atlantic Oscillation


  • Anssi V. Vähätalo,

  • Kalle Rainio,

  • Aleksi Lehikoinen,

  • Esa Lehikoinen

A.V. Vähätalo (correspondence) and A. Lehikoinen, Department of Ecology and Systematics, University of Helsinki, P.O.B. 65, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: K. Rainio and E. Lehikoinen, Department of Biology, University of Turku, FIN-20014 Turku, Finland.


The timing of arrival of 81 migratory species in response to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) was studied at two Finnish bird observatories (1970–99). Timing was determined for the first migrants and for the peak of migration, as well as for the early, median and late phases of migration, defined as the dates when the seasonal cumulative sum of birds reached 5%, 50% and 95%, respectively. For most species, the timing of arrival correlated negatively with the NAO in all phases of migration: the correlation was significant for 79% of species studied. Thus, most species arrived in Finland early when the NAO was positive and indicative of mild and rainy winters in northern Europe. Although all phases of migration correlated negatively with the NAO, the correlations were more negative for the early than for the late phases of migration. Since the NAO did not show a significant trend during the study period, the correlations indicate that the timing of birds followed stochastic fluctuations in the NAO. This finding suggests that most Finnish migratory birds are able to adjust the timing of spring arrival in response to climatic change without time delay.