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Early Palm Warblers

Posted on Sep 12, 2016

If I had to pick out one theme of the overall autumn songbird migration thus far it would have to be how oddly scheduled our birds have been. Are they checking their calendars correctly? Different parts of the region are having often different sightings, possibly based on local conditions including drought and more than double the anticipated amount of rain in some areas, of birds that “should” or “should not” be seen. Lincoln’s Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and birds like these Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum) are October species to me with that being the primary month you find them moving south. So what’s up with a flock of at least seven Palm Warblers foraging for caterpillars and other insects this past weekend?






I appreciate seeing them and admit individual birds can be and are often on whatever schedule they please, but this is a bit much. Is climate change to blame for messing around with some internal clocks and cues? Or are the birds that much smarter than the rest of us and know that, in some cases, it is best to get out of here this year ahead of a difficult autumn and winter? Moving across the Earth is a delicate balance as you have to stay ahead of inclement conditions that can doom your individual species all while progressing exactly when there is food here, there and everywhere else along the way. Your final destination has to be able to provide everything you need to survive for months when you arrive tired and hungry from a long journey.

Essentially, when the birds are changing their lifestyles, we know there is a big reason behind it…and the astonishing and frightening rapidity of anthropogenic climate change might be making all of those reasons for them. You can do your part by continuing to care and talk about the climate, reducing your carbon footprint, and recording these birds in eBird so we can all continue to discover what is happening to the rest of the life on our planet. We do not have all the answers, but we do know we are heating up the Earth at cataclysmic rates, and the animals – not to mention our shores – are starting to react.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator