Warmer April Temperatures on Breeding Grounds Promote Earlier Nesting in a Long-Distance Migratory Bird, the Prothonotary Warbler

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Global climate change and warming are altering hemispheric and local weather patterns. Altered weather patterns have great potential to affect the phenology of life history events, such as the initiation of breeding in organisms that reproduce seasonally. Long-distance migratory birds may be particularly challenged by changes in local weather on breeding grounds because they arrive from distant locations and must commence breeding when conditions are appropriate. Here we explore the effects of local temperature on first egg dates and annual productivity in a long-distance Neotropical migratory songbird, the prothonotary warbler Protonotaria citrea. We present results from a 20-year (1994 to 2013) study documenting the detailed nesting activities of a color-marked population (average of 155 individual females each year) of warblers in southern Illinois, United States. The warblers typically arrive in April and start breeding in late April and May in our study system. We tested for an effect of local average April daily temperature and female age on first egg dates, total number of offspring produced per female, and the probability of fledging two broods. We found that warmer April temperatures promoted earlier first egg dates and higher average annual productivity in the warblers. On average, older females had earlier first egg dates than 1-year-old females, but both age groups responded similarly to local April temperatures. The reproductive gains associated with earlier first egg dates in warmer years stemmed from an increased probability of successfully fledging two broods, suggesting that earlier first egg dates do not currently create a mismatch with food (insect) resources. Earliest arrival dates of warblers to the region of our study system were not affected by local April temperatures, suggesting that females vary their first egg date based on conditions they experience/assess after their arrival. Whereas these birds currently adjust the timing of their breeding and actually produce more offspring in warmer years, continued global warming may eventually upset the current balance between arrival dates, food resources, and the commencement of nesting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number580725
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Dec 2 2020


  • first egg dates
  • global warming
  • local temperature effects
  • long-distance migratory bird
  • prothonotary warbler
  • Protonotaria citrea
  • reproductive output

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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