If global warming predictions are accurate, Indiana is likely to face increasing and rapid environmental change, said Alex Jahn, a research fellow at the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute.
If this happens, birds will have to adjust their migration paths and their timing — and watching them do so might help humans predict what is to come.
Jahn is studying the migration patterns of robins in Central Indiana as part of one of the Indiana University Grand Challenges on preparing for environmental change. He has been capturing robins in the area and putting trackers on them in hopes of gleaning insight into how the birds move across the country.
Some robins stay in Indiana year-round, but others might migrate to new areas. Whether or not a bird will leave is largely variable on the individual, Jahn said. The robin population might look like it stays steady year-round, he said, but that's because as some robins fly out, northern ones might fly in.
Jahn's project is meant to bring new understanding of how birds spread diseases such as Lyme disease, but it might also help shed light on broader environmental changes.
"(We're studying) how we can use migratory birds as sentinels, kind of like a barometer of climate change in Indiana," Jahn said. "It’s funny because it’s one of the most common backyard birds in Indiana… but one of the least known in terms of how they move across our country.”