Thursday, February 12, 2009

Birds in Flight: climate change is threatening their range

Many of the discussions regarding climate change revolve around the impacts seen at the opposing polar regions: the Arctic and Antarctic. Loss of animal habitat, encroachment by previously foreign animal and plant species - with these events we often consider what has happened or will happen in these areas as indications of future events in the more populated warmer regions of the earth.

But there are changes taking place right now in "our backyard" that can be documented as was recently done by the National Audubon Society regarding North American bird migrations and changes in their range or territory. The Society tabulated winter migration data over the past 40 years from 2,000 locations nationwide. The data shows that 58% of the 305 most common North American species have shifted their ranges northward and inland by an average of 35 miles. In a few cases, the distance was much greater, as with the purple finch, common in Missouri but now moving 300 miles north towards Canada.

"Too many people hear about melting glaciers and polar bears and conclude that the impacts of global warming are far into the future and far from home," said NAS president, John Flicker. "But the impact of climate change can be seen right now in the birds that are right outside our door - or not," referring to the possibility that many species may be unable to exist in new locations and extinction becomes a real possibility.

While there are those who debate the cause of climate change, man-made or cyclical, one thing is for sure: we must consider the implications of what is happening now and in the near future - before our efforts to reduce greenhouse gases take effect or before the next cyclical change, depending on your favored position. Birds are a crucial part of plant pollination and seed germination by virtue of the plants and insects they feed upon. How will these natural processes be impacted? How will those impacts affect the large agricultural areas we have come to depend on for fruits, vegetables, or grain?

We are faced with many unknowns and there is much to be studied and hypothesized - waiting until we have a definitive result may be too late as changes in nature can move deceptively slow but with tremendous momentum. Time to act. It's not just "for the birds."

Download National Audubon Society report.

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