Crazy storms, bizarre, unseasonal weather, and extreme temperatures – climate change has caused them all and humans and animals have felt it!
It has been difficult for the plants and animals to adapt to the changes in weather. Recent studies have shown that plants have started flowering and leafing out roughly 3 days earlier per decade for the past 60 years – that adds up to around 18 days earlier than they did in 1957! While this may not seem significant to us, this means that birds need to adapt to make sure that their migration lines up with when there will be food sources!
The National Audubon Society did a study in 2015 of how climate change has impacted bird range. 314 out of 588 species reported (53%) will lose over half of their geographic range and have been seriously threatened by climate change! For 126 of that 314 species, the loss occurs without any other range expansion – these birds are the ones that aren’t able to adapt in time to be able to move their range to somewhere more suitable! 188 of those 314 species are able to adapt and colonize new areas.
Some of the species that are seriously threatened by climate change are ones that we know well, like the Bald Eagle, Ruffed Grouse (the State Bird of PA), Cerulean Warblers, Osprey, and White Throated Sparrows! In fact, the Goldfinch may be lost in PA due to a contracted summer range! Can you imagine not seeing those heralds of nice weather in late spring?
Occasionally, the loss of these birds is coupled with some species from the south adapting and moving. One of these species that PA might gain in the summer is the Painted Bunting! These rainbow colored birds, along with other birds such as the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Lark Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark could become what we find commonplace in the summer.
There are implications though – it’s not just exciting stuff, us getting new, super colorful birds…
As mentioned before, birds that can’t adapt quickly enough to the change in climate can become endangered. It is reported by the World Wildlife Foundation that 1/3 of all bird species risk extinction by 2050. If they stay and don’t adapt, they run the chance of dying due to a lack of suitable food and water. They may not change their migration time soon enough and return home to find that their food source is no longer there! In PA, it could be that we’ve had another bizarre winter and the spring has us buried in snow! Perhaps the winter was warm, flowers started blooming in January and then a heavy snow comes and kills the buds. This can severely impact seed production for birds to eat.
If they have found new territory and adapted, they are at a disadvantage. They are simply unfamiliar of where to find resources! They have to face new competition that they didn’t have to face in their old habitat. Predators could be different in this new area. Birds that have been able to stay and make do with the resources may out-compete birds that are trying to move in and adapt.
Don’t despair though! There are two major things that we can do to help!
Reducing CO2 pollution by simple actions like turning off lights, eating local (13% of greenhouse gas emissions are from transporting food), planting natives (these plants don’t need extra watering or fertilizing), and reusing & recycling (29% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the provision and manufacturing of goods) are vital to reducing the rate of climate change! Calculate your Carbon Footprint by clicking here!
Protecting bird habitat is also important to ensuring the success of the bird populations that are feeling the pressure of climate change. You can make your yard “bird-friendly” by certifying your yard as a wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation or the National Audubon Society. Joining a citizen science project like the Christmas Bird Count or the Great Backyard Bird Count is helpful as your counts provide scientists with data in monitoring bird populations across the country.
Want more information about birds and climate change? Join Bucks County Audubon Society on September 9th at 6:30pm for a screening of the documentary, “The Messenger”, a visually stunning film that shows us the issues that songbirds are facing and about the messages that they are giving us about their dwindling population. Event will take place at the ACME Screening Room in Lambertville, NJ. Tickets are available by clicking here!