, Volume 145, Issue 3, pp 486–495 | Cite as

Variable effects of climate change on six species of North American birds

  • Vanessa M. Torti
  • Peter O. Dunn
Global change and conservation ecology


Many recent studies have shown that birds are advancing their laying date in response to long-term increases in spring temperatures. These studies have been conducted primarily in Europe and at local scales. If climate change is a large-scale phenomenon, then we should see responses at larger scales and in other regions. We examined the effects of long-term temperature change on the laying dates and clutch sizes of six ecologically diverse species of North American birds using 50 years of nest record data. As predicted, laying dates for most (four of six) species were earlier when spring temperatures were warmer. Over the long-term, laying dates advanced over time for two species (red-winged blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus and eastern bluebirds, Sialia sialis). Laying date of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) also advanced with increasing temperature when the analysis was restricted to eastern populations. Neither laying date nor clutch sizes changed significantly over time in the remaining species (American coot, Fulica americana, killdeer, Charadrius vociferous, and American robin, Turdus migratorius), an unsurprising result given the lack of increase in temperatures over time at nest locations of these species. This study indicates that the relationship between climate change and breeding in birds is variable within and among species. In large-scale analyses of North American birds, four of seven species have shown advances in laying dates with increasing temperature (including song sparrows in the east). These variable responses within and among species highlight the need for more detailed studies across large spatial scales.


Climate change Clutch size Laying date Temperature Timing of breeding 



We wish to thank the many volunteers who have contributed to the nest record schemes. We also thank the administrators of these schemes for access to the data: Jim Lowe of the North American Nest Record Card Program, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Mark Peck and George Peck of the Ontario Nest Records Scheme, Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; Janis Klapecki and Jack Dubois of the Prairie Nest Records Scheme, Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature; and Michel Gosselin of the Quebec Nest Records Scheme, Canadian Museum of Nature. This research was supported by grants from Sigma Xi and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vanessa M. Torti
    • 1
  • Peter O. Dunn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin—MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

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