Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is this the end of migration?

Alasdair Fotheringham in the Independent (UK): It's rained three times as much as usual this winter in Andalusia, and almost every day unemployed amateur ornithologist Javier Caracuel has walked past a disused mining tower in the decaying industrial town of Linares and looked up, expecting the pair of white storks that nest there to have migrated south.

Yet despite the surrounding high noise levels – the tower, some 10 metres high, is jammed between a school and a street clogged with traffic – and Andalusia's wettest winter in decades, the storks have stayed put. And they're not alone.

…The changes in storks' behaviour that Mr Caracuel has observed in one near-forgotten mining town in north-eastern Andalusia are far from uncommon. At a recent high-level congress attended by 200 migration experts, leading Spanish ornithologist Miguel Ferrer estimated that 20 billion birds have changed their migrating habits in the last few decades. The biggest single identifiable reason behind such a massive behavioural shift, involving 70 per cent of the world's migrating birds is – surprise, surprise – climate change.

…"Climate change and environmental change are simultaneously forcing migratory birds to adapt extremely quickly," says Ian Newton, a Royal Society member and lifelong researcher into the subject. But if the adaption process is necessarily far faster than the last comparable geophysical phenomenon, the Ice Age, this time round it may not be anywhere near as successful....

Storks in Cerceda, Spain, shot by César Astudillo, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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