Late-arriving barn swallows linked to population declines

Sang Don Lee, Elizabeth R. Ellwood, Se young Park, Richard B. Primack

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17 Scopus citations


Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) are arriving later in the spring than they did 30-40. years ago at numerous sites in Korea. In some cases their arrival times are later by more than 1. month. This result is perplexing as spring activities of plants and animals are generally getting earlier due to warming temperatures. The first arrival dates of swallows are not related to temperature, suggesting that another factor is involved. On the basis of a questionnaire, a large majority of long-term observers are confident that there has been a moderate to severe decline in swallow populations at their field site over the study period. The greatest delays in arrival times are associated with sites with more severe reported declines in population size. Simulations using trapping data of large migratory bird populations from the United States, consisting of hundreds of individuals, suggest that severe population declines of 99% can result in delays of 10-12. days in arrival times. In summary, our results suggest that the large delays in arrival time of Korean swallows are due, at least in part, to severe reductions of more than 99% in what were formerly very large populations. Significant delays in spring phenology over time during a period of climatic warming may indicate population decline, though alternative explanations, such as changes in range or migration path or changing number of broods per season, should also be investigated. Delays in first arrival data can provide a valuable new tool to conservation biologists by indicating declines in a population that would otherwise go unnoticed. This can, in turn, lead to efforts by researchers to verify the dynamics of a population and draw attention to the conservation needs of the species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2182-2187
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to express our appreciation to the Korean Meteorological Administration for recording these data through the past decades and making it available for analysis. We also wish to thank the observers who responded to our questionnaire. Funds for this analysis were provided by the US National Science Foundation, the University of Tokyo, and NRF of Korea (2009-1419-1-6). Comments on the manuscript were provided by Tim Sparks, Anders Møller, and Hiroyoshi Higuchi.


  • Barn swallows
  • Climate change
  • Phenology
  • South Korea


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