A New York State Museum study shows that most of the bird species breeding on the slopes of Whiteface Mountain have shifted their ranges uphill in the last 40 years. The research, conducted by Dr. Jeremy Kirchman, Curator of Birds at the New York State Museum, and Alison Van Keuren, an avid birder who volunteers in the ornithology collection at the State Museum, sheds new light on the response of wildlife to observed climate change in upstate New York.
Kirchman and Van Keuren replicated bird surveys conducted in 1974 by Kenneth Able and Barry Noon, two former researchers at the University at Albany. For the re-survey, the pair of researchers made stops along the road up Whiteface Mountain to tally all birds seen and heard in the early morning and evening hours at altitudes from 550 to 1450 meters above sea level. These new data were gathered in June and July of 2013-2015.
Kirchman and Van Keuren found that for 42 species detected in both survey periods, the average elevational shift was +83 meters. Five species showed no elevational shift, 11 species shifted slightly downhill, while 26 species have shifted uphill, some by hundreds of meters. They also found that upper range boundaries (the highest elevation where a bird species was found) have shifted more than lower range boundaries, and that bird species diversity has nearly doubled in the last forty years at the highest survey point as several mid-elevation species have colonized the top of Whiteface Mountain.
The researchers also obtained surface temperature data collected each year since 1973 at a weather monitoring station at nearby Lake Placid, and found that average daily minimum and average daily maximum temperatures for the summer breeding season have risen steadily over the last 40 years, by a total of 4.43 °F (2.46 °C) and 3.38 °F (1.88 °C), respectively.
Kirchman has worked at the New York State Museum since 2006 and is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society and past member of the Board of Directors of both the New York State Ornithological Association and the Wilson Ornithological Society.
Since 2012, Van Keuren has volunteered two days per week at the State Museum, helping to catalog and digitize the extensive collection of bird egg specimens from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The paper describing this research is entitled, Altitudinal range shifts of birds at the southern periphery of the boreal forest: 40 years of change in the Adirondack Mountains. It is published in the December 2017 issue of the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
Photo of Whiteface in April 2016 courtesy John Warren.