The recently released U.S. Postal Service “forever stamps” feature 10 North American songbirds – from the Baltimore Oriole to Western Meadowlark — but stamps may be the closest some of these species will get to “forever,” according to a troubling new study by the National Audubon Society that points out half of bird species in the U.S. are increasingly endangered as a result of climate change. A second report State of the Birds Report Card –just released by Cornell, the Smithsonian and other partners — presents similar concerns and a Watch List of vulnerable species. JUST ADDED: Science Friday (NPR radio) interviews Gary Langham of the National Audubon Society and Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on which species are under threat and how climate change might affect birds in the future.
Audubon’s study – the first of its kind– looked at data collected over decades from thousands of citizen-scientists who participate in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, from the North American Breeding Survey, as well as scenarios furnished by climate scientists on greenhouse gas emissions to determine the “climate suitability” for 514 bird species.
Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist and lead investigator, says, “ It’s an urgent message. Nearly half of the bird species in the US and Canada are seriously threatened by climate change.” Each species, he recounts, is fine tuned, physiologically, behaviorally and genetically, to live in specific habitats and environmental conditions, such as temperature range, precipitation and seasons. That’s what is in jeopardy for our avian friends,
What did Audubon learn ? (Findings below courtesy of National Audubon Society)
- Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble.
- The Audubon models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50% of their current climatic range by 2080.
- Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50% of their current range by 2050.
- An additional 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50% of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues unabated.
Use the Audubon interactive to check the range of endangered birds in your state and region
Adaptation? Relocation? Die off? Extinction?
Conservation biologists are looking at adaptation strategies as the way many species – birds, amphibians, mammals – may survive higher temperatures and uncertain or more severe weather in the years ahead by moving north or relocating somewhere else. But nothing is certain. “Since 1600, only about nine bird species have gone extinct in continental North America, ” said Graham, ” but we’re looking at half of North American bird species at risk by the end of this century,” in a statement released to the Washington Post.
Yes, you can help!
- First, check out the easy-to-use range maps Audubon has available online to find out which bird species are in your state and region.
- Work with your neighbors and community to dial back carbon pollution that affects climate change – from the micro scale (change your heating/cooling settings at home) to macro, driving less, use transit instead, or try walking.
- Protect places where there are birds today, again micro to macroscale. Create a welcoming environment for bird life in your yard or apartment building
- Volunteer with groups that focus on creating and protecting habitat in your area (botanic gardens, arboretums, local and state parks, open spaces)
- Support wildlife and wilderness groups that are actively working on policy and legislation to reduce habitat loss, incentivize farmers to create bird-friendly areas, and expand conservation on privately owned land.
RESOURCES FOR YOU
Great interactive from New York Times reporting on the Audubon study
Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb 13-16 2015 – it’s fun and easy (details)
State of the Birds Report Card (Access to full report, issued Sept 2014 by Cornell University, with Smithsonian and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)