Waterfowl migrated to the Arctic earlier than normal

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Waterfowl were spotted flying off Kandalaksha Bay despite the region still experiencing a long arctic winter.

Eider ducks, great cormorants and great seagulls are mainly among the typical Arctic waterfowl that return to this Arctic region in the summer in an annual process called abmigration. These birds now reside in their typical nesting grounds in the Kandalaksha Reserve. However, as reported on the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve social media site, the return of waterfowl has been earlier than usual.

The explanation for these strange migration schedules could lie in climate change. The relatively cool Arctic region is often used for nesting purposes among waterfowl during the summer. Typically, waterfowl spend about three months of the year in the Arctic while nesting. During the coldest months of the year, waterfowl typically migrate through northwestern Europe.

The nature reserve (Zapovednik) is located on the southern shore of the Kola Peninsula. Photo: Kandalaksha Nature Reserve

Rising spring temperatures signal that nesting season is fast approaching. This is when Arctic waterfowl birds embark on an approximately 2,000 kilometer route to the Arctic to breed and raise their offspring in the early stages of their lives.

With climate change well underway, higher global temperatures in the Arctic will also lead to earlier snowmelt in the spring as well as a delayed onset of frost in the fall. ConsideringSince temperature change is one of the main indicators of waterfowl migration time, climate change could be the beginning of abnormal waterfowl migration patterns.

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Some scientists have already observed that warmer temperatures have prompted Arctic bird species to migrate north earlier than expected. A study analyzing the change in migration patterns of eagles in the Arctic from 1991 to 2019 found that “on average, migration started about half a day earlier each year – a change that worsened over 25 years to bring about a change of nearly two weeks.

Although the study was conducted on birds other than waterfowl, it could be part of a larger trend in which the migration patterns of Arctic birds are receding further as temperatures rise globally. world. This would certainly explain to some extent the surprisingly early sightings of waterfowl in the Murmansk region.

However, altered migration patterns are arguably not the most dangerous changes birds face as a cause of climate change. Higher temperatures are expected to thaw the Arctic tundra, with estimates claiming that up to 57% of the biome will disappear by the end of the century.

Warmer temperatures have prompted Arctic bird species to migrate north earlier than expected. Photo: Kandalaksha Nature Reserve

The vegetation in their usual nesting areas is likely to change severely in the coming years due to the rapidly changing landscape. To cope with the adverse changes in vegetation and environment as well as the unusually warm climate, various nesting communities are likely to migrate further and further north in search of cooler temperatures and food supply. . However, this poses two deadly challenges for waterfowl.

As groups of birds are expected to cluster in smaller and smaller colder areas of the Arctic, competition for local resources is likely to increase. Additionally, new species migrating further north could import new diseases and parasites that can lethally threaten native species. These two factors could lead to the rapid decline, or even the potential extinction, of certain bird species in the Arctic.

So what is currently a strange and misplaced waterfowl sighting in Kandalaksha Nature Reserve may be just a small detail in a much larger and dangerous trend.

Kandalaksha Nature Reserve is a well-known beauty spot for birdwatchers in northern Russia. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
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