The Climate Change Threat to Birds

Rick Leche/Flickr


Guest post by Lynsy Smithson-Stanley and Elizabeth Sorrell of the National Audubon Society

The Rufous Hummingbird may be small at only three inches long, but its range is astonishing: each spring it travels nearly 4000 miles from Mexico to Alaska to breed.

Sadly, scientists have found that Rufous Hummingbird populations are declining by 3% each year and it’s expected to lose its entire non-breeding range by 2080. Why? New precipitation patterns, triggered by global warming, are threatening the wildflowers the hummingbird feeds on, according to one study.

The Rufous Hummingbird is just one of many species in the crosshairs of climate change, and the National Audubon Society is raising the alarm.


The Wake-Up Call

Last fall, the National Audubon Society released the results of its seven-year look into the impact of climate change on birds. The conclusion: climate change is the number one threat to North American birds; more than 300 North American bird species – including beloved icons like the Bald Eagle, Common Loon, and Baltimore Oriole – are severely threatened by global warming. Without action, many could go extinct.


The Science

Every bird species has a “tolerance zone” where it can thrive – the combination of temperature, precipitation and the timing of events to which that species is attuned. If conditions get too cool, too dry, too wet, or the timing of season changes too much, birds must move.

When Audubon scientists linked 30 years of firsthand bird observations by Americans in every state – where birds are now - to climate information from leading scientists and institutions – where these conditions will appear in the future – they found that many birds will have nowhere to go.

Specifically, 126 birds could lose at least half of their current livable areas, or tolerance zones, by the year 2050, and an additional 188 species may face the same threat by 2080.


Audubon’s Response

For more than 100 years, the National Audubon Society has been the voice of birds – bringing to light new threats they face; leading the science behind the best conservation strategies, and galvanizing our network to protect birds and their habitats. So although we were stunned at the more than 2 billion media impressions and local coverage in 49 states on this issue, we aren’t stopping there.

We’re working every angle to respond to the climate threat: bringing science into the hands of land managers and government agencies; activating our 850,000+ membership to understand the climate-bird threat, and creating solutions that stretch from backyards to state Capitols across the country.


What You Can Do Now

First, find out what local birds are among those imperiled by climate change.

Next, share this information with your loved ones. A conversation might sound like a feeble step in the face of such drastic news. But evidence shows that for highly divisive issues like climate change, talking with trusted friends and family is a potent way to create change. So spread the word, and help protect birds in the face of this threat.


Stay current on Audubon’s climate work and how you can help protect birds. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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