Bird Migration Is Changing With Climate: Indiana University Is Helping Track It

Dec 2, 2019

Scientists say climate change is shifting the migration patterns of some birds — and if they can’t adapt to those changes, they may not survive. Indiana University has set up two antennas to help track birds as they pass through. 

Less than 20 minutes east of IU’s main campus in Bloomington, researchers with the Environmental Resilience Institute walk out in the cold to release songbirds they’ve caught in their nets.

Some of these birds will be fitted with small transmitters so that antenna towers on their path can track their movements. Team leader Allison Byrd says the more towers there are across the country, the better the data.

“There's a great percentage of loss of birds during migration. It’s a dangerous time for them in their life cycle. And so getting information about how quickly they're making these movements, where they're stopping on their migration, can help us,” she says.

Allison Byrd says that info can guide conservation practices in the places where the birds choose to stop — which she says is especially important right now because of climate change.

“There's a lot of information that suggests that birds are changing their ranges and some birds can be flexible to that and some are going to succumb to the changes and they won't be able to adapt,” Byrd says.

Byrd says because there aren’t many monitoring stations like this in the Midwest, we don’t know a lot about the Mississippi flyway — the path many birds take from Canada to southern states.

She says that’s why it’s so important that more stations are set up in states like Indiana — and that they don’t get taken down once a specific project is done.

“The most valuable stations are the ones that persist and that have funding and a person that's assigned to them that's able to continue to keep them in operation. Because when a station is lost, data is lost and the power of the network is less powerful," Byrd says.

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Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.