Birds Environment

Common Backyard Birds and Phenological Mismatch

Common backyard birds are at risk due to phenological mismatch.

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Great Crested Flycatcher, Birds, Birding, Bird Watching
Great Crested Flycatcher. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Common backyard birds are impacted by phenological mismatch. Phenological mismatch has an effect on a wide-range of animals — across all ecosystems on Earth.

When the term “phenological mismatch” pops up, the following comes to mind: butterflies missing the chance to lay eggs on their host plants, or bees missing the opportunity to pollinate specific species of flowers.

Why? Well, that’s exactly what phenological mismatch is — it’s the mismatched timing of a species’ seasonal activities, including reproduction.

This post puts phenological mismatch in the context of backyard birds.

What Happens When Birds are Impacted by Phenological Mismatch? 

When a bird’s seasonal activities are disrupted or occur at the “wrong” time, birds miss important biological opportunities. For example, they miss the opportunity to defend breeding territories, mate, feed, and might lay eggs at later than normal times.

In a study published in May, researchers found that nine common backyard birds are struggling to keep up with climate change. The species on the list below are affected by global warming and consequent phenological mismatch:

  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Eastern Wood-pewee
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Northern Parula
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Townsend’s Warbler

Scientists found that over a 10-year period “green-up”, or early blooming and insect hatching due to temperature, happened earlier.

So why don’t the birds just fly to their breeding grounds at an earlier time? They do, after all, have wings.

It’s not that simple. Birds migrate because of the cues they get from changes in daylight. Light changes indicate to them the season. When the light indicates longer days, birds migrate. Climate change doesn’t impact changes in daylight. Climate change does, however, impact the temperatures that cause green-up.

Therefore, birds are responding to their regular light cues, while plants and insects are responding to theirs — temperature — and they are mismatched.

Help Birds by Bird Watching

The information provided to the researchers was only made possible via citizen science. That’s right. Birders, bird watchers, and backyard birders, just like you, contributed to the data collected. That’s why birders, even 15-Minute Birders, are an important element in making a positive impact on protecting wild birds.

Learn more about how climate change is impacting birders and bird watching around the globe here.

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