NEW YORK – This month, scientists at the National Audubon Society published A study that analyzed how birds of the eastern United States have responded due to climate change and habitat availability in the last 90 years. Published in Global Change Biology researchers determined that winter ranges of all birds have moved in response to climate change, and that bird species with specific habitat needs (e.g. Habitat availability is a major factor in how grasslands and wetlands can survive in a climate-altered world. While few studies have examined the relationship between climate change and habitat suitability with respect to bird population, there are still many to be done. However, Audubon’s longevity is a testament to its resilience. Christmas Bird CountThis data set allowed Audubon researchers the opportunity to investigate this connection and it has important implications for wildlife conservation efforts in future.
“Birds tell us that climate change is already having an effect on them, but not all birds are equally vulnerable to climate change,” said Sarah Saunders, PhD, primary author of the study and quantitative ecologist at Audubon. “If we want to give birds the best chance at survival, habitat conservation needs to be part of our efforts to fight climate change. We can still secure a future for birds and people, but the science is clear: we need to act on climate now.”
In order to interpret more than 90 years of Christmas Bird Count observations from 119 different count circles in the eastern United States, the Audubon researchers sorted 89 species of birds into the following groups: large forest birds, forest passerines, grassland birds, mixed-habitat birds, waterbirds, shrubland birds, waterfowl, wetland passerines, and woodpeckers. The results showed that climate-related temperature and precipitation changes had an impact on the winter ranges of all bird groups. For example, large forest birds like woodpeckers now winter further north than they did before. Although habitat-restricted birds such as waterfowl, wetland and grassland birds are responding to climate change, they only spend their winters in areas with suitable habitat. Conservation efforts can be improved by better understanding how different species react to climate change and habitat loss.
“This study confirms that protecting birds from climate change in the future needs to go hand-in-hand with protecting healthy natural spaces that birds need right now,” said Marshall Johnson, chief conservation officer for Audubon.
Climate change threatens more than two-thirds of North America’s bird species with extinction, according to Audubon’s 2019 report Survival By Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink. However, the same science suggests that by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, more than three-quarters of vulnerable species can be protected. Audubon supports efforts toward net-zero carbon pollution by 2020.
“This important new study is just the latest example of peer-reviewed research made possible by more than twelve decades’ worth of Christmas Bird Count data,” said Geoff LeBaron, Director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. “Every bird tallied (or not) tells us a little more about the state of our environment, and we are grateful to all Christmas Bird Count participants and compilers who help us protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.”
This was the first time Audubon scientists had analysed data from Christmas Bird Counts for more than 90 years. The Audubon CBC project is a community science initiative that is coordinated by the National Audubon Society. Participation is completely free.
In addition to the Christmas Bird Count, Audubon invites members and supporters to participate in next month’s Great Backyard Bird Count. Find out more about this global community science project: https://www.birdcount.org/.
The National Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting birds and the habitats they need in the Americas. It does this through science, advocacy, education, and on-the ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a non-profit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.
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