Behavioral responses to spring snow conditions contribute to long-term shift in migration phenology in American robins

  • April 2, 2020
  • by Ruth Y Oliver, Peter J Mahoney, Eliezer Gurarie, Nicole Krikun, Brian C Weeks, Mark Hebblewhite, Glen Liston and Natalie Boelman


Migratory birds have the capacity to shift their migration phenology in response to climatic change. Yet the mechanistic underpinning of changes in migratory timing remain poorly understood. We employed newly developed global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices and long-term dataset of migration passage timing to investigate how behavioral responses to environmental conditions relate to phenological shifts in American robins (Turdus migratorius) during spring migration to Arctic-boreal breeding grounds. We found that over the past quarter-century (1994–2018), robins have migrated ca. 5 d/decade earlier. Based on GPS data collected for 55 robins over three springs (2016–2018), we found the arrival timing and likelihood of stopovers, and timing of arrival to breeding grounds, were strongly influenced by dynamics in snow conditions along migratory paths. These findings suggest plasticity in migratory behavior may be an important mechanism for how long-distance migrants adjust their breeding phenology to keep pace with advancement of spring on breeding grounds.