Audubon study: Climate change to destabilize hundreds of bird populations
The National Audubon Society has declared a bird emergency.
After a report went viral in September that North America has lost nearly 3 million birds, new data released Thursday from the society finds that these numbers will only increase if no action is taken to reduce the human activity impacting climate change.
The effects of climate change threaten extinction for hundreds of birds in North America, according to the study, “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink.”
But if people and policy makers take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change to keep down global temperatures, about 76 percent of these at-risk birds could be saved, the report states.
“The lack of bird song in the 1950s alerted us to the dangers of the pesticide DDT,” Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut said. “Now birds are forewarning us of the impacts of climate change, from increased storm frequency and intensity to sea level rise.”
Bringing together 140 million observations from bird-lovers and biologists over the last five years, Audubon scientists studied 604 North American bird species and how their habitat range would change geographically based on different warming patterns. Birds were determined vulnerable if the amount of habitat they would lose, due to rising sea levels, deforestation, urbanization, heavy rains and/or increased fires, would be greater than the habitat they would gain by flying and settling elsewhere.
Audubon also launched a zip code-based Audubon’s Birds and Climate Visualizer, which people can use to see how the birds in their area could be impacted.
“Audubon’s new report emphasizes that climate change is local, it is personal, and it will require visionary and fast-moving action to achieve a more favorable future for birds and people,” Tavares said.
The scientists behind “Survival by Degrees” based their calculations on three models put forth by the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for 1.5, 2 and 3 degrees Celsius of global warming. An increase of 1.5 degrees represents action taken to reduce the warming, while 3 degrees represents a conservative estimate of how much the Earth would warm if no action is taken, said Ana Paula Tavares, executive director of Audubon Connecticut.
In Connecticut specifically, species that are most threatened by a combination of climate change and climate-related threats under 3 degrees C of warming include the Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush and Saltmarsh Sparrow. Seventy-one species total are climate-vulnerable in summer under this scenario.
At the highest warming scenario of 3 degrees C, 305 bird species face three or more climate-related impacts.
In 2014, Audubon published its first Birds and Climate Change Report. The study showed that more than half of the bird species in North America could lose at least half of their current ranges by 2080 due to rising temperatures. Audubon’s new findings are more expanded, and more precise: Where the closest users could zoom in on the first interactive impact map was to 10 square kilometers, users can now drill down to one square kilometer — literally down to people’s neighborhoods and backyards, Tavares said.
With Audubon New York, Audubon Connecticut is working to conserve 200,000 acres of northeastern forest, 5,000 acres of salt marsh and 5,000 acres of beach and island habitat, Tavares said.
“We invite everyone to join us in this effort,” she said. “We need conservation champions to act and inspire to others to act now and act boldly. There is great hope for the future if we act now.”
Conserving forested land will help sequester carbon emissions, control flooding and protect watersheds, she said.
In Connecticut, the society is training foresters in bird-friendly forest management, so they can work with private landowners, who own the large majority of the state’s forested areas, Folsom-O’Keefe said.
To scale this effort up, the society is working on training and endorsing foresters so that they can engage larger audiences than the society’s staff could do alone, she said.
Additionally, the society is developing a forest-bird certification program that will work with large organizations, Folsom-O’Keefe said. Landowners and organizations can apply to be certified for having bird-friendly practices that meet certain requirements for being beneficial to birds and their habitats.
Audubon Connecticut also is urging state lawmakers to developing legislation to support coastal communities, which will be the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and to support the development of wind and solar energy sources.