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Smithsonian scientists find declining rainfall is a major influence for migrating birds
Date:3/30/2011

Instinct and the annual increase of daylight hours have long been thought to be the triggers for birds to begin their spring migration. Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, however, have found that that may not be the case. Researchers have focused on how warming trends in temperate breeding areas disrupt the sensitive ecology of migratory birds. This new research shows that changes in rainfall on the tropical wintering grounds could be equally disruptive. The team's findings are published in scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, today, March 30.

Many of the bird species that breed in the temperate forests, marshes and backyards of North America spend the winter months in the tropics of the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Insects are the primary food for many birds during the winter, and rainfall largely determines the amount of insects available. Climactic warming, however, is causing declining and more variable rainfall cycles in many areas, affecting the availability of insects and delaying when birds leave for their northern breeding grounds. To examine this, the Smithsonian scientists focused on American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla), a member of the warbler family, at a non-breeding site in Jamaica where they conduct long-term studies.

"American redstarts were a perfect species for this study since they defend exclusive territories throughout the non-breeding period until they depart for spring migration and most return back to the same territory the following year," said Pete Marra, research ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Migratory Bird Center. "These behaviors made it relatively easy to keep track of individual birds over multiple years and document changing spring departures. Each individual was fitted with a unique combination of colored leg bands."

Precipitation in Jamaica is highly seasonal, with consistent rainfall from
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Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-633-5187
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

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Smithsonian scientists find declining rainfall is a major influence for migrating birds
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