National Audubon Society Reports Impacts of Climate Change on North America’s Birds

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Burrowing Owl – According to the National Audubon Society, by 2080, this diurnal owl species could lose 77 percent of its breeding range.

The National Audubon Society recently released a comprehensive study of the impact of climate change on birds, detailing the prospects for 588 species found in Alaska, Canada and the continental U.S.

The forecast isn’t good, according to Chad Wilsey, one of the study’s authors. Of the species covered in the report, “more than half are likely to be in trouble,” said Wilsey. “Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.”

Nearly 60% of the 305 relatively widely distributed bird species found in North America in winter are on the move, shifting their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles. Audubon scientists analyzed 40 years of citizen-science Christmas Bird Count data — and their findings provide new and powerful evidence that global warming is having a serious impact on natural systems.

Northward movement was detected among species of every type, including more than 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds.

Only grassland species were an exception – with only 38 percent mirroring the northward trend. But far from being good news for species like Eastern Meadowlark and Henslow’s Sparrow, this reflects the grim reality of severely-depleted grassland habitat and suggests that these species now face a double threat from the combined stresses of habitat loss and climate adaptation.

The data was collected from two different widespread and ongoing compilations of information submitted by birders: the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The importance of the contributions from citizen scientists and amateur ornithologists to those surveys can’t be overestimated, according to Matt Reetz, the executive director of the Madison chapter of the Audubon Society.

“These are data that were collected by average, everyday citizens throughout the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “And a lot of folks in Wisconsin contributed to this data set over the years.”

Reliable data is important, but the real challenge is to apply it for meaningful results.

“We get to take the results of this work and apply it to conservation on the ground,” Reetz said.

Sometimes the effects of climate change can seem distant — for example, when Pacific Ocean islands are at risk of being submerged. But Reetz said that the consequences are also much closer to home.

“There are real, major impacts on some of the bird species that we as Wisconsinites grew up loving,” he said. “We are very familiar with them, they’re species that are embedded in our culture and they are at risk here.”

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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