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Report: Climate change is taking a toll on U.S. bird populations

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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birds against skyNorth American bird species are “facing a new threat—climate change—that could dramatically alter their habitat and food supply, and push many species towards extinction,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Thursday when he announced the new report, “The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change.”

According to the report, climate changes will have “an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats.” Oceanic migratory species and birds living in Hawaii will face the greatest threats, according to the report.

The report was a collaborative effort between the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, federal and state wildlife agencies, and organizations including the American Bird Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • All 67 species of oceanic birds commonly found in the U.S. (including albatrosses, petrels, tropical terns, tropic birds, frigate birds and puffins) are vulnerable to disruptions in their habitats due to climate change. The birds all have low reproductive rates and rely on locations which are likely to face heavy changes, along with the climate. Overfishing and invasive species also threaten these oceanic birds.
  • Coastal birds (such as the saltmarsh sparrow) will be threatened by rising sea levels and increased storm activity, which will damage or destroy the fragile ecosystems on which they rely.
  • Island birds will also be threatened by rising sea levels and shrinking habitats. Hawaii’s puaiohi and ‘akiapola’au, along with the Puerto Rican parrot are among the species that will feel the pinch in these circumstances.
  • Arctic and alpine species like the white-tailed ptarmigan and gray crowned rosy-finch will lose critical breeding and feeding habitat as increased temperatures alter the patterns of surface water and vegetation.
  • Birds in wetlands will suffer from increased droughts, those in grasslands will experience drier habitats, and forest dwellers will find their habitats shifting northward and to higher elevations, which could separate them from their current food resources.

“Just as they did in 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, our migratory birds are sending us a message about the health of our planet,” Salazar said.

“The dangers to these birds reflect risks to everything we value: our health, our finances, our quality of life, and the stability of our natural world,” Audubon’s Glenn Olson said in a prepared statement. “But if we can help the birds weather a changing climate, we can help ourselves.”

So what comes next for all of these threatened birds? “All of the effective bird conservation efforts already taking place to protect rare species, conserve habitats and remove threats need to be continued,” said David Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy. “Additionally, they need to be greatly expanded to meet the threat climate change poses to bird populations.”

Read ScientificAmerican Online‘s coverage of last year’s “State of the Birds” report here.

Image: Flock of birds, via Stock.xchng

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  1. 1. sdlawrence 8:51 am 03/14/2010

    I don’t know how they can report something like this, when climate change is so obviously for the birds.

    The nonsensical mental acrobatics used to come to these conclusions are positively mind bending.

    "Overfishing and invasive species also threaten these oceanic birds." but let’s make that a footnote and blame future climate change for the real risks posed.

    "…will be threatened by rising sea levels…" — really? 4mm +/-2mm per year poses that much threat? Or are we on the "imagine if" fantasy ride of extreme projections based on observations.

    "…which will damage or destroy the fragile ecosystems on which they rely." — beware ANYONE who couples "fragile" or "delicate" with the word ecosystem.

    Just about everything in this strong evidence of grant money wasted on "what-if" climate scenario connection with birds is based on speculation.

    But, I guess a new, loveable, icon/mascot was needed, seeing how the overexposure of stable and thriving polar bear populations had run its course. Once the public becomes educated about the birds, and gains perspective, and knows the actual real dangers posed to them, this too will be put on the shelf as so much Hitchcockian scare pabulum.

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  2. 2. JamesDavis 9:06 am 03/14/2010

    Who needs those 67 beautiful and environmentally friendly bird species anyway flying around and clogging up our jet engines and pooping on our nice golf courses? Did you ever notice what those 67 species do to your beautiful fossil fuel car after you wash it? Who needs those birds messing up your nice new car like that anyways? And did you notice how most of those 67 species have a bad habit of chasing our three year-old children away from their nests? How many bandaids are we going to have to buy because of these sharp mouthed birds?

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  3. 3. sdlawrence 11:13 am 03/14/2010

    "…those 67 beautiful and environmentally friendly bird species…"

    Yep, I think the warmists have found their new mascots! It went from, "Who needs all those cute and cuddly polar bears, pooping in our water and smashing our nice, gas guzzling SUV’s if they ever got the chance, who are now forced to tread the melted waters of climate change doom in the midst of our extremely delicate, fragile, free market polluted, poisoned and contaminated ecosystem, going about and eating their young, and each other, in the middle of bouts of massive drownings…", to now…"Why do you hate and want to kill all the pretty birdies?"

    Class, your assignment is to draw a picture of all your favorite birdies. Done? Good. Now imagine what it would be like when all of them are completely destroyed because we didn’t take drastic action soon enough. Now draw a picture of you and your friends and all the other young animals with tears running down the cheeks, asking your mommies and daddies why they didn’t care enough to do something about it."

    Send in the clowns.

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  4. 4. Teehee 11:54 am 03/14/2010

    We need birds mainly because they eat bugs, bugs that can carry illnesses.

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  5. 5. warpsix 1:06 pm 03/14/2010

    Overfishing and invasive species also threaten these oceanic birds. The only truth in the whole story. The fiction called Global warming. Find a new $$ source we are not falling for the lie’s any more, Flame on, but We won the hype has been disproved.

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  6. 6. doug l 1:14 pm 03/14/2010

    The fearmongering pseudo-scientist reporters needed to add an something to the heading of this article; the words should be ‘infinitesimally small" right before the world ‘toll’.
    The climate change, so small it can barely be measured or even distinguished from natural variation, may be happening, and may have something to do with human impacts, but birds fly and it’s been a strategy that has permitted them to survive when other species don’t. If climate changes they will fly to where conditions are better for them. To presume that they can’t is to ignore how previous climatic changes has occured, but then that’s more or less the hallmark of much of this apocalyptic posture regarding the environment and climate change.
    Please don’t misunderstand. I know that bird populations are a small percentage of what they once were, world wide, but the sad thing is that if we stop climate change it will not bring those numbers back, but only stop the slide. Instead of wasting tons of money on the remote possibility of climate change becoming anything but a minor issue in most cases, we need to begin the re-construction and re-establishment of productive and interconnected habitat for animals on land, in the sea and in the air. And it CAN be done if the sort of attention that has been usurped by the climate paranoids were only put into enforcing worldwide the already established laws and if we were to work internationally to create realistically modelled management procedures and then put some muscle into them.
    Imagine what 20 million dollars devoted to cleaning up the plastic patch in the middle of the North Pacific ocean…now imagine that money going to a non-profit climate change study group so they can build an office space in San Francisco’s Hunter’s point…great, just what SF needs…another overpriced and soon to be all but empty office building, employing a bunch of ideologically deluded eco-wannabees…that is how we loose the ability to get anything really done; by frittering away our precious resources on PR and pointless gestures which exemplify the overwhelming bulk of the efforts to combat climate change…what a preposterous situation.

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  7. 7. rougarou 2:38 pm 03/14/2010

    Sorry, but you guys have lost all credibility when you mention climate change or rising tides. You act like I’m gonna step in water when I wake up tomorrow morning. You know, the birds will move and life will go on just like it has for last 100 million years. Quit trying to predict the future and deal with life today.

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  8. 8. dianamv 2:40 pm 03/14/2010

    It’s worrisome that comments like some of these are coming from readers of Scientific American. Climate change IS for the birds, and for the mammals, insects, plants, amphibians and HUMANS –not a hoax perpetrated by leftists and socialists to ruin the fun.

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  9. 9. candide 2:45 pm 03/14/2010

    Oh, wait the government, other countries and literally thousands of scientists are in on the "conspiracy" ?

    And you deniers have the nerve to talk about credibility – while grossly and inaccurately restating commonly agreed facts?

    Here’s a suggestion – try playing Russian Roulette with five bullets, probability is just part of the conspiracy, you’ll be fine.

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  10. 10. Fun Gus 4:15 pm 03/14/2010

    Shame on the fraud warmists trying to steal our children’s future! Birds are alive and well. I just saw one outside my window.

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  11. 11. sdlawrence 4:27 pm 03/14/2010

    "Climate change IS for the birds, and for the mammals, insects, plants, amphibians and HUMANS –not a hoax perpetrated by leftists and socialists to ruin the fun."

    True enough. The climate is changing, has always changed, and always will change. And humans do contribute to that change, on that there is also consensus, although by what amount there is not, nor can there be any consensus. Either way, that isn’t something you "fight", although that remains controversial, and there is no consensus there either.

    The hoax part is where the climate change is portrayed as a) unprecedented, significant, anomalous, even dangerous net warming of the planet, b) caused primarily by human burning of fossil fuels which will c) lead to future catastrophe and untold calamity, all of which we will have "done something about" if we but d) curb our burning of fossil fuels, alter global economies, etc., – those are the hoax parts that get scared people throwing out simplistic analogies, talking about frogs in slow boiling pans, canaries in coal mines, Russian Roulette, precautionary principles and whatnot.

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  12. 12. BobF1776 6:20 pm 03/14/2010

    Just a suggestion, but for any of you doubting human impact on the environment, read Jared Diamond’s "Collapse." We have a pretty good history of being able to mess up our own nests.

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  13. 13. tex78132 8:25 pm 03/14/2010

    I guess this will be the one time in the history that when the climate changes natural species do not adapt or new ones do not arise.

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  14. 14. Soccerdad 11:19 pm 03/14/2010

    The article title "Report: Climate change is taking a toll on U.S. bird populations" makes a claim not supported by the article. If one simply reads the title, one would conclude that birds are suffering due to climate change. In fact nothing of the sort is claimed in the article. Each claim contains the phrase "will be threatened" or "will lose" or "will suffer".

    This fits the mold of the typical article on Global Warming which goes something like "if temperatures increase as we speculate they will then we further speculate that this particular bad stuff will happen". Real informative.

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  15. 15. ocassiuso 1:04 am 03/15/2010

    They also eat vast quantities of weed seeds. And the bugs do not merely cause illness, but damage crops and gardens as well.

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  16. 16. ocassiuso 1:07 am 03/15/2010

    Check out all the climate change deniers. It’s a claque attack.

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  17. 17. NHMountainMan 9:24 am 03/15/2010


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  18. 18. NHMountainMan 9:31 am 03/15/2010


    Rather than attacking the writer’s article, take it with a grain of salt and as speculative opinion?

    The world is changing. It has changed over the course of billions of years, and will continue to change.

    We won’t be here until the end of time, but it doesn’t seem right that we should make every other living thing on the planet suffer from our own greediness, and laziness.

    That’s just plain selfish, and spiteful. They seem to be the most enduring traits of humankind.

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  19. 19. Sisko 12:01 pm 03/15/2010

    LOL at those who believe that the climate can be made to NOT change. Guess what folks, humans and other species do effect the climate to varing degrees and will continue to do so. Some species simply adapt better to the changes than do others.
    The biggest issue facing humanity is not potential climate change, but human population growth

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  20. 20. fisixisfun 5:05 am 03/16/2010

    Some of you seem to be under the impression that sea level rise is anticipated to be in the millimeter range, and that we shouldn’t worry about it. Anticipated sea level rise by 2100 is in the meter range, enough to significantly change coastlines in low-lying areas. I really don’t see why deniers seem to think scientists are making this up to get money, how many of these scientists are rich? If they wanted to get rich by cheating people, they would’ve gone to Wall Street, not science. Seriously, how much money do you deniers think they make off of this? They don’t want climate change to happen, it will only cause bad things for them too, they get nothing out of it. Compare that with what the oil companies stand to lose if anthropogenic climate change is real, and then think about who has a bigger motivation to lie and spread misinformation.

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  21. 21. bbay 10:25 am 04/8/2010

    I am a denier that we are the largest responsibility for the tremendous shift in earth positioning…. In the terms of man’s (affect) this is low; in the terms of natural polar rotation (cause ) is very high…

    Equally, Scientists say that sudden changes in the dimensions of the Earth’s tectonic plates can alter the velocity, affecting the speed of the Earth’s rotation…

    We should seriously observe the species in the wild…

    It is likely that we are seeing a weakening in earth’s magnetic field; as a natural shift in earth positioning appears to be influencing land quakes, from oceanic plate-shifts and rifts…

    I believe in possible goals, including how to save 200 thousand people in distress, and relocate them& Even as a cooling ice age cannot slow crust formations; the tax can only help aid survivors&

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