By Tacy Lambiase

Last month, we discussed the possibility that certain tree species may start budding earlier in the springtime in response to warmer winter temperatures. Well, animals are going to have to adapt, too, and some animal species, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, are already altering their behavior to accommodate climatic shifts.

Ruby-throated hummingbird
Some ruby-throated hummingbirds are starting to migrate earlier. Is this a cause for concern? Credit: hart_curt/Flickr

According to a recent article published in The Auk, the journal of The American Ornithologists’ Union, ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating from their winter habitats in Central America to their North American homes earlier than in the past — 12 to 18 days earlier, in fact. This shift in the hummingbirds’ migration pattern is probably due to warmer temperatures in Central America during the winter months and carries implications for the survival of the species.

As Dr. Ron Johnson, a scientist and one of the study’s authors, told the Associated Press, “With any bird that migrates over long distances, it’s good to show up at the nesting grounds at a good time when you can set up a territory and build your nest and when the young come along there will be a lot of food available.”

But if these hummingbirds migrate to North America early, there is a possibility that there may not be enough food available for them when they arrive. The ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet consists of small insects and nectar from flowers and flowering trees, and the existence of both also depends on the changing seasons.

While the full implications of earlier migrations for hummingbirds and other bird species are not yet understood, it is important to keep them in mind. In 2011, we conducted a habitat restoration project in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest to aid the ruby-throated hummingbird and other species because hummingbirds are not just a popular species among birdwatchers; they also benefit ecosystems across North America by helping to pollinate plants and trees. Just as they depend on a balanced ecosystem to thrive, the health of our forests and even our backyard environments may depend on them.