The National Audubon Society has published a study that documents how over 300 species of birds in North America are endangered due to climate change.
Audubon ornithologists analyzed 30 years’ worth of North American climate data and tens of thousands of historical bird observations from the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (marking 114 years this December) and U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey.
In so doing, the researchers believe they’re now able to “understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them,” says Audubon.
Nearly half the bird species in the continental U.S. and Canada, including the bald eagle and dozens of other iconic birds such as the common loon and our own brown pelican are threatened by climate change, Audubon said regarding this study, published Sept. 17.
This beautiful bird is projected to lose 54 percent of current winter range by 2080, according to Audubon’s climate model (more on this later).
And, while only an estimated 42 percent of its original breeding range will remain, according to investigators, the model shows a potentially significant expansion of climatic range—albeit, far away from the coastal areas required for this species.
And, one big uncertainty facing the bird in the coming decades is how climate change will affect its prey fish, says Audubon on its web site.
Besides Louisiana’s state bird, the black skimmer shows “even more dramatic changes due to climate fluctuations”, says Audubon’s Melanie Driscoll, the Society’s Baton Rouge-based director of Bird Conservation, Gulf Coast Conservation/Mississippi Flyway.
Driscoll spoke to this examiner Sept. 23 regarding the dramatic changes being experienced by birds across the continent.
She elaborated on how Audubon’s study identified 126 species that will lose more than 50 percent of their range — meaning the area in which they can exist and or thrive — by 2050. Another 188 species “face more than 50 percent range loss by 2080, but may be able to make up some of this loss if they are able to colonize new areas,” according to Audubon.
Sadly, the brown pelican is a species that will/would struggle as climate change effects intensify. Driscoll explains that a primary reason is that it’s a coastal bird. So as warmer temperatures push the bird’s migration northward, perhaps to Arkansas, it won’t find the kind of environment it needs to thrive, from nests to marshland to fish.
“The brown pelican is threatened by change,” says Driscoll, adding that the report looks at whether a bird is going to have to lose some habitat or gain some habitat in order to survive.
“If the climate in which a species can exist reasonably well moves location, and a species has to move to follow it, it may lead to stress that may cause that species to be endangered,” says Driscoll.
She says of the endangered black skimmer:
These lovely birds nest directly on the ground, are similarly affected by erosion and land loss, and are one of the species National Audubon Society helps to protect across the Gulf Coast with our coastal bird stewardship work.
Yet, mother nature is obviously overpowering even the most heroic efforts of man.
Influences can include nests that actually fry during the Gulf states’ harsh summers or erratic weather in general, not just extreme warmth and humidity. Freezes, hurricanes and all the other staples of our world’s changing climate are hurting area birds.
Audubon’s Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led an investigation into the 314 North American birds, says of the massive bird losses to come:
It’s a punch in the gut. The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming. That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research.
Langham says climate change is threatening “the basic fabric of life on which birds – and the rest of us – depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and for us.” Whether that means the aforementioned brown pelican, black skimmer or the stunning red roseate spoonbill.
Yet Audubon does not want anyone to sit idly by and just let the climate change and hurt our birds, of course.
Driscoll says that efforts in Louisiana such as barrier island restoration, which as many readers know means “moving sand and creating islands or building them back up”, are steps in the right direction.
Other positives here in Louisiana include creating and restoring marshes as well as diverting sediment.
It used to be that [the] Mississippi River built marshes in spring floods and we trapped [that] … in banks…[Now we can] create deliberate cuts in levees to direct sediment.
Audubon Pres. and CEO says,
The prospect of such staggering loss is horrific, but we can build a bridge to the future for America’s birds. This report is a roadmap, and it’s telling us two big things: We have to preserve and protect the places birds live, and we have to work together to reduce the severity of global warming.
To read the report and view color-coded interactive maps that show the dramatic changes in bird range over the coming years, click here.