Climate change a threat to two-thirds of North American bird species

A tern sits across Hillsborough Bay from a coal-fired power station near Tampa

A tern sits across Hillsborough Bay from a coal-fired power station near Tampa

The ruffed grouse is one of 106 breeding bird species in ME that will be threatened if global temperatures rise - as projected at current levels - as much as 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to a report by the National Audubon Society.

Audubon scientists used data gathered by biologists and birders across North America to create various models showing the effects climate change could have on birds in the next 80 years. Stabilizing carbon emissions tokeep global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would benefit most of the vulnerable species and possibly result in almost 150 species coming off the list of vulnerable to extinction due to climate change, according to the report. Audubon scientists studied more than 600 North American bird species using 140 million bird records, including observational data from bird lovers and field biologists throughout the country. For South Carolina, the breeding (summer) birds will be disproportionately affected - almost a quarter (35 out of 146) of the species that nest in South Carolina are climate vulnerable.

Though reducing emissions from vehicles and power plants is a major goal outlined in the report, Wells said conserving land also is key, not only to maintain more bird habitat but also to provide trees and plants that can absorb carbon and help mitigate greenhouse gases. "The two things go hand in hand", he said.

The ruffed grouse, Pennsylvania's state bird, could move completely out of the state if the planet warms 3 degrees Celsius, which the United Nations predicts will happen this century.

The report says some places could even see an increase of bird species, although at lower numbers.

Enter your zip code into Audubon's Birds and Climate Visualizer to see how climate change will impact your birds, your community, and see how you can help.

Last month, a paper published in Science reported North America's bird population has experienced a loss of 2.9 billion breeding adults since 1970.

If steps aren't taken to reduce climate change, Yarnold warned, the reality could be worse than the model's predictions.

And more alarming than the loss of songs and flashes of color at the backyard feeder is what birds like the American robin tell us about the speed of the changes. "Those loons are what drive my work today and I can't imagine them leaving the USA entirely in summer but that's what we're facing if trends continue".

"Ninety-nine percent of birds could have to cope with more frequent extreme-weather events, like intense spring heat and heavy rainfall; at the same time, sea-level rise and urbanization could consume much-needed habitat", the scientists write in a summary of their findings.

Renee Stone, vice president of climate for the National Audubon Society, called on elected officials to treat climate change as a priority going forward.

"What this means for birds is that plants and the insects that live on them that they're expecting to find when they migrate, aren't there", Bonner said.

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