Citizen science data reveal possible multi-decadal phenological changes in the arrival time of a migratory tropical seabird species at the breeding ground

Letizia Campioni, Jeremy Madeiros, Paolo Becciu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Changes in climate and weather variability are having global impacts on the lives of organisms, particularly on upper trophic-level predators such as pelagic seabirds. In the North Atlantic, migratory seabirds are expected to respond to climate variability by adjusting their seasonal events, including the timing of migration and arrival at the breeding site. The timing of these events may be influenced by large-scale atmospheric phenomena such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) that gauge temporal and spatial variation in environmental conditions across the North Atlantic. In the Bermuda Islands (32° 17′ 58″ N, 64° 47′ 25″ W), the White-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus catsbyii) is one of the few breeding seabird species which returns every year between February and March after migration. According to local belief their return announces the arrival of Spring, and this cultural importance means that the event is noticed. Only recently, early tropicbird returns have been recorded and associated with unusual climate/weather conditions experienced across the region. This raised the question of whether the species is showing some change in its phenology and whether it might be affected by changing climatic conditions. To answer this question, we investigated tropicbird arrival dates at Bermuda using current and historic observation data retrieved from the eBird citizen science platform. After accounting for biases inherent to opportunistic data collection, we selected and used the first annual observation as a proxy for bird arrival time at the Bermuda breeding ground from 1953 to 2023. We found that tropicbird observation dates advanced substantially over the past 70 years suggesting that arrival time has been likely shifting of ca. 20–25 days. However, first observation dates were not related to the variation in annual or winter NAO and AMO Indices, and further investigation is required to understand the underlying causes of these progressively early arrivals. Overall, the study highlights that citizen-science data can be used to unveil hidden phonological patterns when a standardized long-term data collection is missing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation
  • Citizen science
  • North Atlantic Oscillation
  • Phaethon lepturus
  • Phenology
  • Tropic seabird
  • White-tailed tropicbird

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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