Climate change leads to decreasing bird migration distances


Marcel E. Visser, e-mail:


Global climate change has led to warmer winters in NW Europe, shortening the distance between suitable overwintering areas and the breeding areas of many bird species. Here we show that winter recovery distances have decreased over the past seven decades, for birds ringed during the breeding season in the Netherlands between 1932 and 2004. Of the 24 species included in the analysis, we found in 12 a significant decrease of the distance to the wintering site. Species from dry, open areas shortened their distance the most, species from wet, open areas the least, while woodland species fall in between the other two habitats. The decline in migration distance is likely due to climate change, as migration distances are negatively correlated with the Dutch temperatures in the winter of recovery. With a shorter migration distance, species should be better able to predict the onset of spring at their breeding sites and this could explain the stronger advancement of arrival date found in several short distance species relative to long-distance migrants.