Timing of spring migration in birds: long-term trends, North Atlantic Oscillation and the significance of different migration routes

Martin Stervander, Åke Lindström, Niclas Jonzén, Arne Andersson

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We studied long-term trends and the yearly variation in mean spring passage time in 36 passerine bird species trapped at Ottenby Bird Observatory in south-eastern Sweden. Between the years 1952-2002, data were available for 22-45 years depending on species. Most long-distance migrant species passed progressively earlier over the study period (range: 2.5 days earlier to 0.7 days later per 10 years, with an average of 0.9 days earlier per 10 years). The annual variation in timing of migration in most species, regardless of migration distance, correlated negatively with the winter index of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a large-scale climate phenomenon influencing the climate in the North Atlantic region. Birds passed earlier after mild and humid winters., corresponding to the high phase of the NAO. This corroborates the pattern round at a nearby migration site with a comparable dataset (Helgoland, 600 km WSW of Ottenby). However, short/medium-distance migrant species at Otterby, in contrast to the situation at Helgoland, have shown no general trend of earlier passage in recent years. This was probably a consequence of the shorter study period at Ottenby, which included only the last 22-32 years (41 years at Helgoland), when the NAO showed no significant trend. At the species-specific level, the long-term trends in passage time were similar at the two sites, and there was some congruence to the extent that a given species was affected by NAO. Long-distance migrants wintering south and south-east of the breeding grounds showed some of the strongest changes in long-term trends (passing progressively earlier) at Ottenby, and for some of these species passage time varied negatively with NAO. Obviously, and contrary to previous suggestions, variations in NAO also influence birds migrating through eastern Europe, although the direct or indirect mechanisms through which this is achieved are unknown.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-221
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biological Sciences


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