Research shows that Volatile Weather Causes Nightingale’s Wings to Shrink

by Kunaal Venugopal

A new study published by researchers from the Complutense University of Madrid published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances highlights the effects that climate change has had on birds, specifically nightingales. Due to rising temperatures, natural selection has allowed for the average wingspan of nightingales in Spain to decrease. Unfortunately, these shorter wings may have a negative impact on the Nightingale’s ability to migrate each year.

Lead author at the Complutense University of Madrid, Carolina Remacha, says that “There is much evidence that climate change is having an effect on migratory birds, changing their arrival and laying dates and their physical features over the last few decades.” The British Trust for Ornithology estimates a 91 percent decrease in the nightingale population in England from 1967 to 2007. In 2018, the same group estimated less than six thousand nightingales were left in Britain.

So How Can We Help Nightingales?

The simple answer is to mitigate climate change. However, when specifically talking about nightingales, Remacha cites that “If we are to fully understand how bird populations adapt to new environments in order to help them tackle the challenges of a rapidly changing world, it is important to call attention to the potential problems of maladaptive change.” Collins Dictionary defines maladaptation as “the failure to adapt properly to a new situation or environment.” In essence, to be able to help nightingales adapt to the changing world, we have to look at the problems of their maladaptive change.

This can be attributed to a theory, named the “migratory gene package” theory. It states that the features that help the nightingales migrate and survive are all intertwined, such that if one is weakened by evolution, the others may be too. This theory creates a cause-effect relation between less offspring and shorter wingspans.

However, the scope of climate change’s effect on birds extends past nightingales. Research from the National Audubon Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats, estimates a 29 percent decrease in the number of birds since 1970 in the United States and Canada. Although there are reasons such as invasive species causing the declining bird population, many other reasons can be attributed to climate change. While there may be many solutions to address the declining nightingale population in the world, to permanently address this problem, we must strive to mitigate climate change.