Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Spring resource phenology and timing of songbird migration across the Gulf of Mexico

January 23, 2015

Migratory songbirds are advancing their arrival to breeding areas in response to climatic warming at temperate latitudes. Less is understood about the impacts of climate changes outside the breeding period. Every spring, millions of migrating songbirds that overwinter in the Caribbean and Central and South America stop to rest and
refuel in the first available habitats after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. We used capture data from a long-term
banding station (20 years: 1993 to 2012) located on the northern coast of the Gulf to assess the passage timing of 17 species making northward migrations into eastern North America. We further assessed spring resource phenology as measured by normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) on nonbreeding ranges and en route. We tested the hypotheses that spring passage timing has advanced during the past two decades and that annual variability in passage timing into eastern North America is related to spring resource phenology
on stationary nonbreeding ranges and during passage south of the Gulf. Further, we assessed whether annual variability in resource phenology south of the Gulf was a good indicator of the conditions that migrants encountered upon first landfall in eastern North America. We found no trend in migration timing for species that migrate from South America and annual variability in their passage timing was unrelated to environmental
conditions in nonbreeding ranges or en route. Species that migrate from Central America and the Caribbean delayed arrival by 2 to 3 days over the 20-year period and arrived later during years when conditions were dryer in nonbreeding ranges and passage areas south of the Gulf. Further, year to year variability in spring resource phenology in nonbreeding ranges and passage areas south of the Gulf were not good indicators of resource
phenology upon arrival in eastern North America. Therefore, despite the fact that many migrant species have been arriving increasingly earlier to breeding grounds, the passage timing of 17 species into eastern North America has either not changed or is slightly later, due to drying spring conditions in Central America and the Caribbean. Our results suggest that Nearctic–Neotropical migratory birds adjust the rate of migration primarily within eastern North America and, in light of warmer temperatures in the temperate zone and earlier arrival
timing to breeding ranges, species that overwinter in Central America and the Caribbean may be increasing the speed of migration within eastern North America.

Publication Year 2015
Title Spring resource phenology and timing of songbird migration across the Gulf of Mexico
Authors Eben H. Paxton, Emily B. Cohen, Zoltan Németh, Theodore J. Zenzal, Kristina L. Paxton, Robert H. Diehl, Frank R. Moore
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Studies in Avian Biology
Index ID 70146011
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center