[New chickadee study shows climate change affecting distribution] [Dr. Scott Taylor, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell Lab of Ornithology] Most people are familiar with chickadees. They’re common backyard birds in North America, but they don’t realize that there’s actually seven different species of chickadees. Even in eastern North America there’s two that are pretty common. Black capped chickadees in the north and Carolina chickadees in the South. When you’re looking at them, black-capped and Carolina chickadees are pretty hard to tell apart, but if you hear them sing it’s a bit easier. Black-capped chickadees have a two part call. They say Phoe-be, whereas Carolina chickadees tend to say a four part call Phoebe Phoebay. Black-capped and Carolina chickadees look so similar that sometimes even they make mistakes and breed with the wrong species. When this happens they produce hybrids, and where the ranges overlap there’s a hybrid zone. The hybrid zone in eastern North America runs from New Jersey all the way to Kansas. Both species of chickadees are here year-round, so they’re affected by the same cold winter temperatures that we are. Black capped chickadees can tolerate colder winter temperatures than Carolina chickadees or the hybrids that they produce. Over the past 10 years, winter temperatures in North America have increased and Carolina chickadees are occurring farther north than they used to. When we use genetic data and Ebro data to map the hybrid zone, we found that it has moved north over the past decade, and the current location corresponds very closely to these warmer winter temperatures. The response we see in chickadees is a strong indicator that climate change can alter species distributions. How organisms might respond to climate change is important for informing future conservation decisions.

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Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees look so similar that even they sometimes make mistakes and breed with the wrong species. This happens most often in the zone of overlap between the two species. The hybrid zone of these two popular, closely related backyard birds is moving northward at a rate that matches warming winter temperatures, according to a March 2014 study by researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Villanova University, and Cornell University. Studies like this help inform conservation strategies to address the impacts of climate change on birds.