Novel methods reveal shifts in migration phenology of barn swallows in South Africa

Publication Year:

Many migratory bird species, including the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), have advanced their arrival date at Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds, showing a clear biotic response to recent climate change. Earlier arrival helps maintain their synchrony with earlier springs, but little is known about the associated changes in phenology at their non-breeding grounds. Here, we examine the phenology of barn swallows in South Africa, where a large proportion of the northern European breeding population spends its non-breeding season. Using novel analytical methods based on bird atlas data, we show that swallows first arrive in the northern parts of the country and gradually appear further south. On their north-bound journey, they leave South Africa rapidly, resulting in mean stopover durations of 140 days in the south and 180 days in the north. We found that swallows are now leaving northern parts of South Africa 8 days earlier than they did 20 years ago, and so shortened their stay in areas where they previously stayed the longest. By contrast, they did not shorten their stopover in other parts of South Africa, leading to a more synchronized departure across the country. Departure was related to environmental variability, measured through the Southern Oscillation Index. Our results suggest that these birds gain their extended breeding season in Europe partly by leaving South Africa earlier, and thus add to scarce evidence for phenology shifts in the Southern Hemisphere. Keywords: climate change, bird migration, life cycle timing, phenology shift, Southern Oscillation Index.

Publication Title:

Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Item Type:
Journal Article

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