By BEN WESTCOTT
Climate change is the top threat to birds in North America, according to Ana Paula Tavares, executive director at Audubon New York.
This month the National Audubon Society released a report detailing which bird species are most at risk from the threat of climate change, and how the ranges of certain bird species would shift in future decades if current global warming trends continue.
The new report, “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink,” used 141 million bird-related records and compiled range data on 604 bird species across the continent.
The report determined that 64 percent of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. On a more hopeful note, the study found that acting to hold warming to no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial levels—the most ambitious of three scenarios considered in the report—could reduce the vulnerability of 70 percent of these at-risk species. Getting there would require reducing global greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
Net-zero emissions does not necessarily signify absolutely no greenhouse gas emissions, but rather that any emissions are offset by reforestation or technology that removes greenhouse gases from the air.
The Audubon Society used the latest climate models to project how each species’ range would shift as a result of varying degrees of global warming. For example, the common loon, a large diving water bird common in the Adirondacks, would lose 12 percent of its current summer range with a 2.7-degree increase in global temperature from pre-industrial times, while the high-end warming scenario of 5.4 degrees would result in a 27 percent range loss. The loon would be obliged to move northward to cooler climes during the summer.
In addition to the new report, the Audubon Society has released a “Birds and Climate Visualizer.” With this interactive tool, users can type in their ZIP code to find out how climate change is expected to impact birds in their own community. In Franklin County, for instance, it lists spruce grouse and black-throated green warblers as high-vulnerability species in the lowest warming scenario, and 41 highly vulnerable species under the warmest scenario.
Bicknell’s thrush and boreal chickadee are among other Adirondack birds threatened by warming, said Jillian Liner, Audubon New York’s director of bird conservation.
The common loon is a bird that “people would miss greatly if it is no longer found in the Adirondacks,” Liner said. And the Bicknell’s thrush, a species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers “an extreme habitat specialist” because of its preference for high-altitude terrain, faces the possibility of “essentially getting squeezed off the mountains,” Tavares said.
Tavares stressed the importance of urging local officials to support climate solutions. “Bipartisan, community and statewide efforts are what we need,” she said. “We need conservation champions to act and to inspire others to act boldly.”