An early spring could be detrimental to migratory birds

Trumpeter swan

For all those cottagers who spend their winters dreaming of summer, February’s balmy temperatures were an unexpected gift. 

But a few extra weekends at the lake could have a negative impact on nature and wildlife. Tys Theysmeyer, the head of natural lands at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, told CBC News that he’ll be holding his breath as he waits to see how these unusual weather patterns affect local flora and fauna.

According to reports, RBG staff have noticed birds arriving a week or more ahead of schedule, and Theysmeyer said that insects could emerge in as little as two weeks. When these events begin earlier than normal, they have the potential to throw off the entire ecosystem.

Kevin Fraser studies the migration patterns of birds at the University of Manitoba’s Avian Behaviour and Conservation Lab, and says he’s most worried about long-distance migratory birds.

Although birds that migrate short distances are able to respond to signals that indicate warm weather at their breedings sites, the ones that winter thousands of kilometres away rely on longer days as a signal to migrate, meaning they’re likely to return at the same time each year.

Fraser is concerned that species like the purple martin, which returns to Canada from the Amazon basin in South America, won’t be able to respond to the rapid environmental changes the country is experiencing. 

“When birds arrive late, and they’re mismatched with the peak productivity, they produce fewer young, and that actually is correlated in population declines,” Fraser told reporters.

“We know that long-distance migratory birds are declining more steeply than any other kind of bird.”

Of course birds aren’t the only ones that could feel the negative impacts of this unseasonably warm weather.

Early spring conditions can also affect maple syrup production and lead to early snow melt, which means the ground can dry out earlier, leading to poor farming conditions and an increased risk of wildfires.