Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
We used to have four perfect seasons; now, we don’t know what to do anymore.
-Local Farmer, Wright’s Store, Jamestown, TN; 1989
The September-October 2014 Audubon is a special issue focusing on “Birds and Climate Change.” A close study of this issue has been disturbing and inspiring. In his introductory essay, CEO and President David Yarnold states the sobering conclusions of a seven-year Audubon-directed study of the effects of climate changes on North American bird populations.
Since its founding in 1905, Audubon has always stood for birds, and
science-based bird conservation has been our core mission.
Following in that tradition, our science team recently completed a
seven-year study of the likely effects of climate change on North
American bird populations. The findings are heartbreaking: Nearly
half of the bird species in the United States will be seriously
threatened by 2080, and any of those could disappear forever. As
global temperatures rise, as weather patterns shift, as vital bird
habitats dwindle and disappear, familiar and beloved species will leave
for more suitable locales or die out completely.
This study identified 314 North American bird species that are
imperiled. These include the Bobolink, Common Loon, Eastern
Whip-poor-will, Blue-Winged Teal, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Shoveler,
and Swallow-Tailed Kite. The imperiled species include birds that
are presently listed as common in certain locations and seasons
(American Brown Pelican) and those whose populations have already been
greatly reduced by habitat loss (Cerulean Warbler). Although the
study also determined that the range and numbers of some species (e.g.
Turkey Vulture, European Starling) would increase, over half of the
present species, from shoreline birds to those that live in the inland
prairies, are threatened by the many environmental effects of climate
change. These changes destabilize the cycles of water and carbon,
long-established patterns of ocean currents, and the complex
interactions of flora and fauna that are gathered under the phrase
This reshaping has many deleterious effects on bird species.
Food flowers bloom weeks before northward migrating hummingbirds arrive
at a favored resting point, starving them. A Warming waters
disrupt a cyclical increase of a food source rendering this source
unavailable to shore birds and pelagic species during nesting season.
The numbers of the trees a species has nested in for millennia are
greatly reduced because of pest-borne viral diseases that have migrated
upslope or across latitudes because of a warming climate.
Several articles in this issue present studies and extrapolations
from decades of field data collected by Audubon scientists and used to
generate predictive models for avian habitats and population ranges.
These models have led to sometimes disheartening predictions about the
effects of climate change. But, this very large-scale and long
term destabilization is no reason for paralysis.
The great climate destabilizer is Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)
caused by the many ways in which human industry, agriculture and basic
population expansion have increased the percentage of carbon dioxide
and methane in the atmosphere, leading to an increase in those
atmospheric gases that have been known since the 19th century to cause
the atmosphere to retain heat. Audubon’s national call to awaken to
climate change is a plea to recognize the problems and to act.
Within this special issue of Audubon are commentaries and suggestions
about the wide-range of actions that can be taken to create, support
and protect bird habitats and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Henry Paulson, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, counsels that
“The good news is if we act immediately, we can still avoid most of the
worst impacts of climate change, and significantly reduce the odds of
costly, catastrophic outcomes on the environment—and in turn, our
economy.” A young evangelical from Illinois notes that “Climate
action…should be understood as a moral issue that transcends partisan
divides and requires our best ideas, innovation and cooperation to
solve.” And, from a climate scientist at Texas Tech: “I think
there is a perception that we have to acquire a whole new set of values
[to respond to climate change]. But the reality is that to care
about climate change we just have to be human, we have to live on this
planet, we have to want a better world for ourselves and for our kids.”
Locally and regionally we can respond in many positive ways to
support bird populations, and our own environment. We can work
with our County Agricultural Agency to identify, plant and nurture
shrubs, flowers and trees useful to migrating and nesting
species. We can vote for candidates and
constitutional amendments that support acquisition and preservation of
wild spaces or restore impaired natural areas. [Locally,
Amendment 1, the Florida Land and Water and Land Conservation
Initiative, is an important amendment to ensure that 33% of the
existing state real estate document tax is appropriated only for
acquisition, protection and management of natural areas.] And, we can
support and apply technological solutions (e.g. solar and wind energy
generation, energy conservation) that reduce carbon emissions.
Personally, I can’t imagine an evening campout in the woodlands of
Middle Tennessee without the call of the Eastern Whip-poor-will, a
sunset in the Boundary Waters unaccompanied by the distinctive cry of
the Common Loon, or a springtime hike in Central Florida that didn’t
include a sky inscribed by the graceful sauntering of the
Swallow-Tailed Kite. This special issue of Audubon is both a
warning of impending species loss and a call to apply the myriad
technological and political and personal actions that can help to
ensure that those bright travelers, nesters, dabblers, waders, divers
and sky acrobats we witness daily in our backyards and travels remain
as a part of the living day.
And as that farmer from Jamestown, Tennessee might have also remarked, from his years of farming and living on the Cumberland Plateau: “If a man made it and a man broke it, a man can fix it!”