Long-term phenological shifts and intra-specific differences in migratory change in the willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus

Johanna S. U. Hedlund, Sven Jakobsson, Cecilia Kullberg, Thord Fransson

Published online: 
10 October 2014

Climate change can influence many aspects of avian phenology and especially migratory shifts and changes in breeding onset receive much research interest in this context. However, changes in these different life-cycle events in birds are often investigated separately and by means of ringing records of mixed populations. In this long-term study on the willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, we investigated timing of spring and autumn migration in conjunction with timing of breeding. We made distinction among individuals with regard to age, sex, juvenile origin and migratory phase. The data set comprised 22-yr of ringing records and two temporally separated data sets of egg-laying dates and arrival of the breeding population close to the ringing site. The results reveal an overall advancement consistent in most, but not all, phenological events. During spring migration, early and median passage of males and females became earlier by between 4.4 to 6.3 d and median egg-laying dates became earlier by 5 d. Male arrival advanced more, which may lead to an increase in the degree of protandry in the future. Among breeding individuals, only female arrival advanced in timing. In autumn, adults and locally hatched juvenile females did not advanced median passage, but locally hatched juvenile males appeared 4.2 d earlier. Migrating juvenile males and females advanced passage both in early and median migratory phase by between 8.4 to 10.1 d. The dissimilarities in the response between birds of different age, sex and migratory phase emphasize that environmental change may elicit intra-specific selection pressures. The overall consistency of the phenological change in spring, autumn and egg-laying, coupled with the unchanged number of days between median spring and autumn migration in adults, indicate that the breeding area residence has advanced seasonally but remained temporally constant.