Europe’s most common birds might stop migrating completely and spend all year on the continent in response to climate change, scientists have suggested.
New research from Durham University found that some species of trans-Saharan migratory birds are each year spending longer in their European breeding grounds, and less time in Africa.
The paper’s lead author, Kieran Lawrence, said: “If the trends continue, in time some birds will spend no time at all in sub-Saharan Africa – and instead the full year within Europe.”
At least 4,000 bird species are regular migrants, about 40 per cent of the world’s total.
In far northern regions, such as Canada or Scandinavia, most birds move south to escape winter.
The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is based on over 50 years of sightings of birds including nightingales, pied flycatchers, redstarts and willow warblers from traditional retreats in The Gambia and Gibraltar.
An analysis of the observations revealed for the first time that trans-Saharan migratory birds are spending as many as 50 to 60 fewer days a year in their non-breeding grounds in Africa.
The significant reduction suggests they are able to survive longer in a European winter than before.
The findings suggest they are making more nuanced decisions – responding to global warming and available vegetation – and are arriving at their winter destinations later into the autumn than before.
They were also departing the locations earlier in the spring – slashing the overall period in non-breeding grounds.
Records were gathered by ornithologists in The Gambia and Gibraltar between 1964 and 2019, and 1991 and 2018, respectively.
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