By Phil Wright
The National Audubon Society released an important study "Birds and Climate Change" in September. This study by Audubon ornithologists concludes that global warming is the greatest threat birds face today. More than half of the nearly 600 North American birds studied are at risk and nearly one quarter face possible extinction by the year 2080.
The study was the centerpiece of the annual Audubon Washington conference, held in Ocean Shores in September. Gary Langham, Audubon's Chief Scientist, made an impressive presentation at the meeting, explaining the science behind the study and the expected changes in the ranges of individual species which will result from the increase in global temperature. The study, which has taken seven years, uses many years of data from the Christmas Bird Count, the North American Breeding Bird Survey and forty years of North American climate data to understand the link between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them. Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future.
Of the 313 regularly occurring birds in Washington State included in the study, nearly 100 are climate threatened or endangered. Some are projected to lose a substantial percent of their summer ranges as summer temperatures rise. For example: horned grebe and trumpeter swan (projected to lose 100% of their summer range), merlin, northern pygmy-owl and California gull (98% loss), Barrow's goldeneye (97% loss). Although these birds are projected to lose less of their winter ranges (46-73%), if they are unable to breed due to loss of summer range, they are threatened with extinction.
- Related: Birds at Risk in Washington State (PDF)
As Tim Manns, our Conservation Chair, said in his October Conservation Report:
The Audubon report ends with two points: we can and should act to address climate change and the necessary transition from fossil fuels. And, the protection of habitat for birds and other creatures is key to their survival. Habitat protection drives Skagit Audubon's conservation advocacy: supporting our local land trusts, encouraging public land managing agencies to protect and restore habitat, urging much greater care in the transport and processing of fossil fuels while transitioning away from them.
There is much information on Audubon websites about the study. The Audubon Washington website has a full list of resources under Conservation. This includes links to articles in the Puget Sound press and the best resources on Audubon's website. I encourage you to take a few minutes to become familiar with this important study.