Nearly half the bird species in North America are threatened by climate change, according to a new report.
The report, published Monday by the National Audubon Society, found that as the the climate of North America changes, 126 bird species will lose more than half — with some at risk of losing 100 percent — of their current ranges by 2050, and will have no possibility of colonizing new areas if warming continues unabated. That’s about 21 percent of North America’s 650 or so bird species. On top of that, 188 species are also threatened by a 50 percent or more loss in their ranges by 2080, but may be able to find new areas to colonize.
“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” Audubon Chief Scientist and report’s lead researcher Gary Langham said in a statement. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens 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.”
Iconic birds like the bald eagle, which stands to lose almost 75 percent of its summer range over the next 65 years, are among those threatened, as well as the state birds of ten states and the District of Columbia. Multiple birds, including the American avocet, the brown-headed nuthatch, the eared grebe, the trumpeter swan and the northern saw-whet owl, could lose 99 percent of their current ranges by 2080.
Audubon researchers examined 30 years of climate data for North America and also referred to “tens of thousands of historical bird observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey” to determine how America’s birds are likely to react to climate change.
David Yarnold, the president of the National Audubon Society, told the New York Times that though some birds will likely be able to move farther north or further up in elevation and continue to survive, it’s likely some species will go extinct — though he doesn’t know how many.
“What happens to a yellow-billed magpie in California that depends on scrub oak habitat? What happens as that bird keeps moving higher and higher and farther north and runs out of oak trees?” he said. “Trees don’t fly. Birds do.”
Audubon’s report provides suggestions for readers who want to help birds’ chances of surviving in a changing climate, including creating a “bird-friendly” yard, supporting policies for lower emissions and making sure local decision-makers support them too.
An updated version of a report on birds and climate change from the Department of Interior is also due to be released on Tuesday. Audubon’s comprehensive report is the latest to examine how birds will fare in a changing climate — last year, the National Wildlife Federation released a report finding that migratory birds were particularly threatened by climate change, due to potential mismatches in food and habitat availability migration time. And other studies have examined the impacts climate change is having on certain bird species: in Argentina, for instance, penguin chicks are dying from extreme heat and heavy rains.