Whooping cranes appear to be spending more time in Canada.
A new study from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows the endangered cranes are flying north earlier in the year and heading back south later.
“Spring migration, we’re seeing birds arrive in early March now, when traditionally they wouldn’t arrive until the end of March or early April,” Joel Jorgensen, NGPC nongame bird program manager, tells Nebraska Radio Network. “In fall, we’re seeing birds show up in the very end of October or early November.”
Traditionally, these birds would have peaked about the end of October as they move through the state, Jorgensen says, describing the three week shift substantial in the whooping cranes’ migration.
Researchers reviewed tracking data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spanning nearly 75 years.
“If they’re migrating earlier in spring and later in fall, that potentially makes them more at risk for late-season or early-season blizzards,” Jorgensen says. “At the same time, it also presents opportunities for these birds, since additional habitat and food resources will be available to them.”
The data shows the shift has been happening gradually, but it accelerated over the past 20 years.
“There has been an increase in temperature, especially in spring, during the period when these birds migrate through the Central Flyway, but our results in fall were inconclusive,” Jorgensen notes. “I think these birds are responding to the environment they live in. I’ll let other people make the conclusion about the direct links between this change in migration timing and climate change.”
Jorgensen says the shift is not impacting population size, citing a record nesting season this year in their northern Alberta, Canada, breeding grounds.