Migration of Greenland wheatear

Wheatear Research

Impacts of climate change on the migration strategies of Greenland wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa

Adam Seward, PhD project, Cardiff University & Macaulay Institute, UK, email: sewarda@cardiff.ac.uk, website: adamseward.co.uk

Supervisors: Dr Rob Thomas (Cardiff University, email: thomasrj@cardiff.ac.uk), Dr Lucy Gilbert (Macaulay Institute, email: l.gilbert@macaulay.ac.uk), Dr Hefin Jones (Cardiff University, email: jonesth@cardiff.ac.uk)

Climate change has major consequences for ecosystems and populations. Climate change is not even across the planet. This presents challenges for long-distance migrant birds, that have to time their migrations to coincide with food availability at locations hundreds or thousands of kilometres apart.

How can we understand and predict the impacts of climate change?

In this project, I am carrying out field-based feeding experiments to investigate how changes in food availability affects the migration strategies of the Greenlandic northern wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa.

Northern wheatear fat and muscle

Muscle (pink) and fat (whitish) of northern wheatear.

The wheatears breeding in Greenland have one of the most arduous migratory journeys of any passerine (songbird) in the world. Twice a year, they must cross the Atlantic on the way to and from their wintering grounds in west Africa. Before leaving on migration, birds are triggered into a feeding frenzy by a hormonal change, and spend all hours of daylight eating food to build up their flight muscle mass and fat stores.

Climate change is predicted to affect the abundance and timing of emergence of the invertebrates that wheatears and others like them eat. I am carrying out feeding experiments to better understand how the migration strategy (e.g. how much fuel to accumulate, when to leave) is affected by changes in food availability. This is achieved by setting up feeding stations consisting of bowls of mealworms placed on top of an electronic balance and monitored with video cameras.

Juvenile wheatear at feeding station

Juvenile wheatear at feeding station

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