Chasing the robins: How bird watching helps study the impacts of climate change

Local News

BROCKPORT, NY (WROC) — Bird migration is right around the corner. A robin sighting is not all that uncommon now according to the College at Brockport’s research scientist Greg Lawrence. 

“Some of these populations might be going just a little bit further south,” said Lawrence, referring to robins that migrate short distances to other areas. Some robins go longer distances while others do not migrate at all. 

“A lot of their diet is fruit and berries, so they eat tons of berries in the winter and so they’ll be here in really high numbers in the winters,” said Lawrence.  

When it comes to climate change, the outlook becomes grayer. While many signs point toward a slow push toward migration that slides northward, robins are showing resiliency. In fact, Lawrence says robins have been spotted at higher elevations and nesting in areas that previously were not inhabited by robins. This may eventually force out other, less aggressive birds like the Bicknell’s thrush.  

“That’s a bird that’s been pushed further and further up the mountain, as birds like the robin and another related species the Swainson’s thrush have moved up further,” said Lawrence.  

As far as spotting the robin recently, this is likely from snowmelt that has exposed more food sources for the bird. “People are definitely seeing and hearing more birds,” said Liz Magmanti, manager of The Bird House, a store in Pittsford. Magmanti is also the head of the Rochester Birding Association. Most robins will migrate back into Western New York by late March and early April. 

“It’s like Pokémon Go but in real life,” said Magmanti, “and you never know what you’re going to see when you go out there” 

This is entertainment just as much as it is research. Bird watchers document thousands of bird migrations every year. 

“It’s a huge citizen science project and people all over the world are contributing,” said Magmanti. This work is helping us understand how birds are coping with a changing climate. 

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