Feather moult and bird appearance are correlated with global warming over the last 200 years

Y. Kiat, Y. Vortman, N. Sapir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global warming alters various avian phenological processes, including advanced reproduction and migration schedules. In birds, individual appearance is largely determined by plumage, influencing, for example, bird attractiveness, social status and camouflage. Juveniles of most passerine species replace their nest-grown plumage during the first months of life, a process that is called post-juvenile feather moult. Using data from ten natural history collections, we show that the extent of the post-juvenile moult has increased significantly over the last 212 years (1805–2016), a trend that is positively correlated with the temperature of the environment. Therefore, it seems that birds replaced more feathers under warmer conditions, causing juveniles to appear more similar to adult birds. Moreover, in several species, we describe a male–female switch in the extent of moult, with females currently replacing more feathers than males compared to the past. These results demonstrate different biological responses to climate warming by different phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2540
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research received support from the Synthesys Project which is financed by the European Community Research Infrastructure Action under the FP7 project (call 3) at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (FR-TAF-5571), National History Museum of Denmark (DK-TAF-6443), Museum für Naturkunde (MfN; DE-TAF-6398), Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN; ES-TAF-6445), Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (NRM; SE-TAF-6442) and Natural History Museum Vienna (NHMW; AT-TAF-6444). We would like to thank H.V. Grouw and M. Adams from the Natural History Museum (Tring; UK), J. Fuchs and V. Bouetel from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France), K. Thorup, J.B. Kristensen and N. Manniche from the National History Museum of Denmark (Copenhagen, Denmark), S. Frahnert, P. Eckhoff and M. Voß from the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin, Germany), J.B. Rodriguez and J. Cabarga from the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (Madrid, Spain), U. Johansson and I. Bisang from the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (Stockholm, Sweden), A. Gamauf and A. Hille from the Natural History Museum Vienna (Vienna, Austria), D. Berkowic and A. Belmaker from the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History (Tel-Aviv, Israel), R. Efrat from the National Natural History Collections, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Jerusalem, Israel) and R. Winkler from the Naturhistorisches Museum (Basel, Switzerland). Thanks also to R. Efrat and Y. Belmaker for their assistance with the statistical analysis and to P. Dougalis for drawing the bird illustrations in Figure 1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Physics and Astronomy (all)


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