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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

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

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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

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

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