Climate Fact: Finches on the Move (East)

In Brief: Warmer winter temperatures are allowing the Purple Finch to winter 433 miles farther north than it did in the 1960s.

Observers during recent annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts are noticing different birds in their local areas during the winter months than observers did in the 1960s. Between 1966 and 2005, significant northward movement of 177 out of 305 observed species was documented. Not all species moved north and a few may be wintering a little farther south, but the general trend has been an average northward movement of 35 miles. More than 60 species are now wintering at least 100 miles farther north than they did in the 1960s. General trends of species movement toward or away from the poles happen during periods of climate warming and cooling, as species seek their preferred conditions. The average temperature in January in the lower 48 states rose by over five degrees Fahrenheit from 1966-2005. This means that temperatures are now more tolerable in more northerly areas, letting birds stop their southerly migrations sooner and remain closer to the north pole during winter. In the eastern United States, the range of the Purple Finch has advanced by 433 miles over the past 40 years. This is about the distance from the Virginia-North Carolina border to southern Connecticut.

Want to help scientists collect more data about winter bird ranges? Participate in the Christmas Bird Count from December 14, 2012 to January 5, 2013.

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Purple Finch (click for image download from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Photo courtesy of Dr. Thomas T. Barnes, U.S. FWS

Source: The Audubon Society. “Birds and Climate Change: Ecological Disruption in Motion.” February 2009. Accessed Online 2 December 2011 <>

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