Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Trends in timing of migration of south-western Australian birds and their relationship to climate

Lynda E. Chambers
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, GPO Box 1289, Melbourne, Vic. 3001, Australia. Email: L.Chambers@bom.gov.au

Emu 108(1) 1-14 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU07017
Submitted: 9 March 2007  Accepted: 23 January 2008   Published: 25 February 2008


The influence of climate on the timing of migration of Australian birds is poorly understood, particularly in Western Australia and for waterfowl. This paper examines a new dataset, comprising presence–absence records of 20 species of waterbirds and landbirds at Middlesex, south-western Australia, for the period 1973–2000. Considering only species with sufficient records to determine trends, over this period nine of 19 species (47%) had significantly altered arrival times (five arriving earlier and four later); seven of 17 species (41%) had significant changes in departure dates (four departing later, three earlier); and eight of 17 (47%) species had significantly different season lengths (the period spent at Middlesex, with five spending more time at Middlesex). Generally, changes in the timing of regular seasonal movements were consistent among species that arrived or departed in similar seasons, with species that arrive in spring tending to arrive earlier, while species arriving in autumn and winter arrived later. Trends were generally more pronounced in spring-arriving species, though strong trends were also seen in other seasons. This region experienced significant reductions in the number of rain-days and increased minimum temperature over the study period. For many Middlesex species, particularly waterbirds, precipitation changes appeared to have a greater influence on changes in migration timing than temperature, though some species also appeared to respond to changes in extreme temperatures. This differs from many northern hemisphere studies, where changes in mean, maximum, or minimum temperature were associated with changes in migration timing.


I thank S. J. J. F. Davies for arranging access to this dataset and for reviewing an earlier draft of this paper. Extreme gratitude goes to the late R. and M. Brown for keeping meticulous records over such a long period. C. Spillman, L. Beaumont, L. Hughes and anonymous referees provided helpful comments on this paper. I acknowledge the librarians at the National Meteorological Library who assisted in obtaining several more ‘unusual’ interlibrary loan requests and J. Neal of Department of Environment and Conservation, Manjimup, who helped me to obtain a copy of the Middlesex bird records.


Abbott, I. (1999). The avifauna of the forests of south-west Western Australia: changes in species composition, distribution, and abundance following anthropogenic disturbance. CALM Science 5, 1–176.Supplement

Beaumont, L. J. , McAllan, I. A. W. , and Hughes, L. (2006). A matter of timing: changes in arrival and departure dates of Australian migratory birds. Global Change Biology 12, 1339–1354.
CrossRef |

Berthold P. (2001). ‘Bird Migration.’ (Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.)

Brooker, M. G. , and Brooker, L. C. (1989). Cuckoo hosts in Australia. Australian Zoological Review 2, 1–67.

Brown R. J., Brown M. N., Davies M. J., and Davies S. J. J. F. (2005). Observations on the changes in status and movements of birds at the Middlesex Field Study Centre, Manjimup, Western Australia, based on twenty-five years of daily records. Curtin University of Technology, Department of Environmental Biology, Bulletin No. 26.

Butler, C. J. (2003). The disproportionate effect of global warming on the arrival dates of short-distance migratory birds in North America. Ibis 145, 484–495.
CrossRef |

Buttrose, M. S. , Grant, W. J. R. , and Sedgley, M. (1981). Floral development in Acacia pycnantha Benth. In Hook. Australian Journal of Botany 29(4), 385–395.
CrossRef |

Chambers, L. E. (2005). Migration dates at Eyre Bird Observatory: links with climate change? Climate Research 29, 157–165.
CrossRef |

Chambers, L. E. , and Loyn, R. H. (2006). The influence of climate variability on numbers of three waterbird species in Western Port, Victoria, 1973–2002. International Journal of Biometeorology 50, 292–304.
CrossRef |

Chambers, L. E. , Hughes, L. , and Weston, M. A. (2005). Climate change and its impact on Australia’s avifauna. Emu 105, 1–20.
CrossRef |

Chan, K. (2001). Partial migration in Australian landbirds: a review. Emu 101, 281–292.
CrossRef |

Christidis L., and Boles W. E. (2008). ‘Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Christensen J. H., Hewitson B., Busuioc A., Chen A., Gao X., Held I., Jones R., Kolli R. K., Kwon W.-T., Laprise R., Magaña Rueda V., Mearns L., Menéndez C. G., Räisänen J., Rinke A., Sarr A., and Whetton P. (2007). Regional climate projections. In ‘Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’. (Eds S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K. B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H. L. Miller.) pp. 847–940. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.)

Cotton, P. A. (2003). Avian migration phenology and global climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 100(21), 12219–12222.
CrossRef |

Davison, E. M. , and Tay, F. C. S. (1989). Phenology of Eucalyptus marginata on sites infested with Phytophthora cinnamomi. Australian Journal of Botany 37(3), 193–206.
CrossRef |

Della-Marta, P. , Collins, D. , and Braganza, K. (2004). Updating Australia’s high-quality annual temperature dataset. Australian Meteorological Magazine 53, 75–93.

Del Hoyo J., Elliott A., and Sargatal J. (Eds) (1992). ‘Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 1. Ostrich to Ducks.’ (Lynx Edicions: Barcelona.)

Dingle, H. (2004). The Australo-Papuan bird migration system: another consequence of Wallace’s Line. Emu 104, 95–108.
CrossRef |

Dingle, H. , Rochester, W. A. , and Zalucki, M. P. (2000). Relationships among climate, latitude and migration: Australian butterflies are not temperate-zone birds. Oecologia 124, 196–207.
CrossRef |

Dunn P. (2004). Breeding dates and reproductive performance. In ‘Birds and Climate Change’. Advances in Ecological Research Vol. 35. (Eds A. Møller, W. Fiedler and P. Berthold.) pp. 69–87. (Elsevier: Amsterdam.)

Griffioen, P. A. , and Clarke, M. F. (2002). Large-scale bird-movement patterns evident in eastern Australian atlas data. Emu 102, 99–125.
CrossRef |

Higgins P. J. (Ed.) (1999). ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 4: Parrots to Dollarbird.’ (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Higgins P. J., Peter J. M., and Steele W. K. (Eds) (2001). ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 5: Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats.’ (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Jenni, L. , and Kéry, M. (2003). Timing of autumn bird migration under climate change: advances in long-distance migrants, delays in short-distance migrants. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences 270, 1467–1471.
CrossRef |

Johnstone R. E., and Storr G. M. (1998). ‘Handbook of Western Australian Birds. Vol. I: Non-Passerines (Emu to Dollarbird).’ (Western Australian Museum: Perth.)

Johnstone R. E., and Storr G. M. (2004). ‘Handbook of Western Australian Birds. Vol. II: Passerines (Blue-winged Pitta to Goldfinch).’ (Western Australian Museum, Perth.)

Kingsford, R. T. , and Norman, F. I. (2002). Australian waterbirds – products of the continent’s ecology. Emu 102, 47–69.
CrossRef |

Lehikoinen E., Sparks T. H., and Zalakevicius M. (2004). Arrival and departure dates. In ‘Birds and Climate Change’. Advances in Ecological Research Vol. 35. (Eds A. Møller, W. Fiedler and P. Berthold.) pp. 1–31. (Elsevier: Amsterdam.)

Li, F. , Chambers, L. E. , and Nicholls, N. (2005). Relationships between rainfall in the southwest of Western Australia and near-global patterns of sea-surface temperature and mean sea-level pressure variability. Australian Meteorological Magazine 54, 23–33.

Marra, P. P. , Francis, C. M. , Mulvihill, R. S. , and Moore, F. R. (2005). The influence of climate on timing and rate of spring bird migration. Oecologia 142, 307–315.
CrossRef |

Mawson, P. R. , and Long, J. L. (1995). Changes in the status and distribution of four species of parrot in the south of Western Australia during 1970–90. Pacific Conservation Biology 2, 191–199.

Minitab Inc. (2003). ‘MINITAB Statistical Software, Release 14 for Windows.’ (Minitab Inc.: State College, PA.)

Nakagawa, S. (2004). A farewell to Bonferroni: the problems of low statistical power and publication bias. Behavioral Ecology 15, 1044–1045.
CrossRef |

Nix, H. A. (1976). Environmental control of breeding, post-breeding dispersal and migration of birds in the Australian region. Proceedings of the International Ornithological Congress 16, 272–305.

Pittock B. (2003). ‘Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts.’ (Australian Greenhouse Office: Canberra.)

Priddel, D. , and Wheeler, R. (2005). Fecundity, egg size and the influence of rainfall in an isolated population of malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata). Wildlife Research 32, 639–648.
CrossRef |

Roshier, D. A. , and Reid, J. R. W. (2003). On animal distributions in dynamic landscapes. Ecography 26, 539–544.
CrossRef |

Smith, I. N. (2004). Trends in Australian rainfall – are they unusual? Australian Meteorological Magazine 53, 163–173.

Seber G. A. F. (1977). ‘Linear Regression Analysis.’ (John Wiley & Sons: New York.)

Visser M. E., Both C., and Lambrechts M. M. (2004). Global change leads to mistimed avian reproduction. In ‘Birds and Climate Change’. Advances in Ecological Research Vol. 35. (Eds A. Møller, W. Fiedler and P. Berthold.) pp. 89–110. (Elsevier: Amsterdam.)

Yates, C. J. , Hobbs, R. J. , and Bell, R. W. (1994). Factors limiting the recruitment of Eucalyptus salmonophloia in remnant woodlands. I. Pattern of flowering, seed production and seed fall. Australian Journal of Botany 42(5), 531–542.
CrossRef |

Zann, R. A. , Morton, S. R. , Jones, K. R. , and Burley, N. T. (1995). The timing of breeding by Zebra Finches in relation to rainfall in central Australia. Emu 95, 208–222.

Export Citation Cited By (13)