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Colby Shepler

CC Biology

Dr. Schmalbeck

20 May 2019

Increasing Global Temperatures Affect the Migration Patterns of the American Kestrel

The American Kestrel, also known as Falco Sparverius, is a migratory bird of prey that

typically breeds in the lower latitudes of Canada and upper latitudes of the United States. During

the winter months, most of these birds will migrate toward the central and lower latitudes of the

United States in order to find food, such as insects, rodents, as well as other smaller birds, that

are absent during the winter months in the northern section of the continent. The general increase

in global temperature has required the migration pattern of the American Kestrel to change and

adapt in order to maintain the reproductive, hunting, and nesting lifestyles that are necessary to

the survival of F. Sparverius.

A direct and more noticeable byproduct of global climate change is warmer winters. In

the case of the American Kestrel, warmer winters are decreasing the necessary energy output

required to migrate, nest, and feed their young (Heath et al. 376). The increased winter

temperatures decrease the harshness of central and upper latitudes of the United States, causing

the American Kestrel to spend less time and energy migrating to warmer weather (considering

they do not have to travel as far). As a result of less harsh winters and more expendable

resources, with the northern states warming sooner in the year, the American Kestrel is ready to

migrate back north to its breeding grounds closer to the start of Spring rather than the tail end.
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Not only does climate change increase global temperatures, it also increases frequency

and intensity of inclement weather. The main food sources for American Kestrels are rodents and

insects, both of which are highly responsive to changes in weather. Rodent activity severely

decreases in the instance of inclement weather, making it harder for these birds of prey to find a

proper meal (Dawson and Bortolotti 814). Thunderstorms and rain showers are more prominent

in the central and southern regions of the U.S. during the spring and summer months despite

climate change; thus, with the addition of increasing temperatures, the inclement weather will

become more hostile earlier in the year. In response, the American Kestrel tends to migrate north

sooner in order to avoid the worst of the inclement weather and a rodent-lacking diet (Dawson

and Bortolotti 814). The summer months are the breeding time for the American Kestrels;

therefore, food is imperative in order for the parents and the offspring to be adequately

nourished. Inversely, while rain and humidity tend to drive rodents away, insects thrive in those

conditions, which makes it peculiar that American Kestrels would be migrating away from their

food source in the lower latitudes during the humid, southern summers. However, insects begin

to make a northern appearance in the north once temperatures begin to rise, and, with global

warming, that time is becoming sooner in the year, allowing these birds to have access to both

insects and rodents alike during the breeding season.

Even though the American Kestrel seems to be coping with the changes in climate, the

worst may be yet to come. Migratory birds of prey are likely more vulnerable to climate change

due to their long lives, low(er) reproductive rates, and occasionally long migratory travels

(Sullivan et al. 208). With their longer lives and lower reproductive rates, these birds are less

likely to quickly adapt, change, and evolve in response to the increasing global temperatures, a

large disadvantage when the warming trends do not seem to be slowing down. Additionally,
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American Kestrels that breed further north, deeper into Canada migrate great distances in order

to find food and shelter for the winter. With a changing climate, the American Kestrel’s food

source will eventually either move to a different habitat more suitable or decline as a result of the

increased temperatures (Sullivan et al. 208).

Furthermore, the American Kestrel has been shown to be able to withstand a body

temperature between 2oC and 4oC higher than resting temperature for long periods of time

(Bartholomew and Cade 153). Therefore, this kestrel may not necessarily respond to a gradual

increase in heat. This suggests that the American Kestrel does not migrate solely in response to

weather, climate, or temperature. This could become a problem if the prey of the kestrel migrates

away from its usual location, or the location known to the American Kestrel. Since this bird is

able to withstand significantly higher internal temperatures, its migratory destination may not

change; however, the prey located around this location could travel in response to changing

temperatures, causing the food source of the American Kestrel to decrease. Rising temperatures

are not only causing the American Kestrel to migrate sooner in the year but could potentially

cause a depletion of resources that could be detrimental to its survival.


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Works Cited

Bartholomew, George A., and Tom J. Cade. “The Body Temperature of the American Kestrel,

Falco Sparverius.” The Wilson Bulletin, vol. 69, no. 2, 1957, pp. 149–154.

JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4158580.

Heath, J. A., Steenhof, K. and Foster, M. A. (2012), Shorter migration distances associated with

higher winter temperatures suggest a mechanism for advancing nesting phenology

of American kestrels Falco sparverius. Journal of Avian Biology, 43: 376-384.

doi:10.1111/j.1600-048X.2012.05595.x

Russell D. Dawson, Gary R. Bortolotti, Reproductive Success of American Kestrels: The Role of

Prey Abundance and Weather, The Condor: Ornithological Applications, Volume

102, Issue 4, 1 November 2000, Pages 814–822, https://doi.org/10.1650/0010-

5422(2000)102[0814:RSOAKT]2.0.CO;2

Sullivan, A. R., Flaspohler, D. J., Froese, R. E. and Ford, D. (2016), Climate variability and the

timing of spring raptor migration in eastern North America. J Avian Biol, 47:

208-218. doi:10.1111/jav.00692