Nearly half of the bird species in the continental U.S. and Canada are threatened by global warming. Many of these species could go extinct without decisive action to protect their habitats and reduce the severity of global warming. That’s the startling conclusion reached by Audubon scientists in a new study.
Here in Pennsylvania, birds threatened by global warming include Purple Finch, Baltimore Oriole, Bald Eagle, and Wild Turkey.
Of 588 bird species examined in the study, 314 are at risk. Of those, 126 species are at risk of severe declines by 2050, and a further 188 species face the same fate by 2080, with numerous extinctions possible if global warming is allowed to erase the havens birds occupy today.
“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the investigation. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds – and the rest of us – depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively to avoid catastrophe for them and us.”
To understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them, Langham and other Audubon ornithologists analyzed 30 years of historical North American climate data and tens of thousands of historical bird records from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Understanding those links then allowed scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future.
The study also reveals areas that are likely to remain stable for birds even as climate changes, enabling Audubon to identify “stronghold” areas that birds will need to survive in the future.
The result is a roadmap for bird conservation in coming decades under a warming climate. The study provides a key entry point for Audubon’s greater engagement on the urgent issue of global warming. Responding to the magnitude of the threat to our birds, Audubon is greatly expanding its climate initiative, aiming to engage a larger and more diverse set of voices in support of protecting birds.
Solutions will include personal choices to conserve energy and create backyard bird habitat, local action to create community climate action plans, state-based work to increase rooftop solar and energy efficiency, and our work in Important Bird Areas and other efforts to protect and expand bird habitats.
The results of Audubon’s Climate Report are currently available online at climate.audubon.org. There, you can find the science and effects on birds — down to the species — in arresting detail. For even more information — and potential solutions — check out the current issue of Audubon Magazine, fully available online alongside Audubon’s Climate Report.