International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 361–373 | Cite as

Climate and the complexity of migratory phenology: sexes, migratory distance, and arrival distributions

  • Dena P. MacMynowski
  • Terry L. Root
Original Article


The intra- and inter-season complexity of bird migration has received limited attention in climatic change research. Our phenological analysis of 22 species collected in Chicago, USA, (1979–2002) evaluates the relationship between multi-scalar climate variables and differences (1) in arrival timing between sexes, (2) in arrival distributions among species, and (3) between spring and fall migration. The early migratory period for earliest arriving species (i.e., short-distance migrants) and earliest arriving individuals of a species (i.e., males) most frequently correlate with climate variables. Compared to long-distance migrant species, four times as many short-distance migrants correlate with spring temperature, while 8 of 11 (73%) of long-distance migrant species’ arrival is correlated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). While migratory phenology has been correlated with NAO in Europe, we believe that this is the first documentation of a significant association in North America. Geographically proximate conditions apparently influence migratory timing for short-distance migrants while continental-scale climate (e.g., NAO) seemingly influences the phenology of Neotropical migrants. The preponderance of climate correlations is with the early migratory period, not the median of arrival, suggesting that early spring conditions constrain the onset or rate of migration for some species. The seasonal arrival distribution provides considerable information about migratory passage beyond what is apparent from statistical analyses of phenology. A relationship between climate and fall phenology is not detected at this location. Analysis of the within-season complexity of migration, including multiple metrics of arrival, is essential to detect species’ responses to changing climate as well as evaluate the underlying biological mechanisms.


NAO ENSO Climate change Sexual differential migration Phenology 



We would like to thank that numerous, unnamed individuals who collected birds at McCormick Place for 20 years so that these unfortunate avian deaths might contribute to our understanding of bird migration. Specifically at the Field Museum of Natural History, we thank Dave Willard for supplying the initial database for our investigation. Two anonymous reviewers provided constructive comments that improved this manuscript. D.P.M. was supported by a grant from the Winslow Foundation.


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Copyright information

© ISB 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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