Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

October 2014 Conservation Notes


Birds and Climate Change

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 “eco-systems”.

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!”

Lamont Ingalls

Conservation Chair