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Audubon Releases Comprehensive Study On Climate Change Impact On Birds

Melody Lytle/Audubon Photography Awards

If you like hearing the loon’s call at the lake or spotting ducks, you could be out of luck in the near future. In a first-of-its-kind study, Audubon has released a comprehensive study of bird species throughout Alaska, Canada and the continental U.S. assessing fundamental climate needs for each species to survive. It found several iconic species at risk in New York.

The Audubon Bird and Climate Report assesses climactic suitability, predicting a range of temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes that each species needs to survive. It uses predicted greenhouse gas emission scenarios to map each species’ new range as the climate changes.  It found 588 North American species at risk. 314 will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.

In New York, game birds such as the Ruffed Grouse, Mallard and Black Duck will leave the state as they lose habitat.  The loon is expected to abandon the Adirondacks. Hundreds of other species within the state are at risk.

Audubon NY Executive Director Erin Crotty explained that the data in the report is based on three decades of citizen science observations from Audubon’s annual Christmas bird count and from ornithologists’ North American breeding bird survey. Crotty, a former Commissioner of the NYS DEC, calls the report another wakeup call.  “We’ve been noticing changes to habitat and to bird species who are coming to New York for quite some time. Birds are sentinel species and so sometimes the first changes in our environment are seen in birds. I think the report, because it is a modeling or a forecasting of what could happen to our birds in a warmer climate, it paints a picture of the actual impact to all these species at the same time. That is a huge wake-up call for people to take action.”

Crotty points to the state’s iconic species that are at risk, including the loon.  “What the climate report from Audubon is showing is that it is quite possible that the common loon could disappear from the Adirondack habitat by the end of this century because of the warming climate. Another species of concern is the Ruffed Grouse. That particular game bird - the climate in New York is predicted to not be suitable for them.”

The Adirondack Council’s logo includes the loon. Executive Director Willie Janeway says Audubon used hard science to assess potential impacts from climate change.  “In the Adirondacks we lost almost all our loons because of acid rain. We should look at the progress we’ve made combating acid rain and learn from that because climate change could undermine that by changing the temperatures of the water.  By changing the seasons we could lose all the progress we’ve made.”

Birds are a critical part of the ecosystem, and alterations through climate change will affect the entire system, Crotty explains.  “Once you take one important element out of an ecosystem, like a bird, it also throws off balance the rest of the species and the rest of the plants and animals in that ecosystem including bugs and invertebrates and fish and other types of wildlife. So it’s tremendously important that we continue to protect the habitat that birds need to survive and thrive.”

The Audubon report is online. Crotty explains how it works.

Credit Audubon Bird and Climate Report

“It’s an interactive website that shows you by individual species what the impact of climate change is likely to look like under various emissions scenarios and at different time periods.  So if you pick a species, you start to see this interactive map show you, actually it looks like a migration map, the habitat ranges for the birds in a warming climate.”

Crotty adds that the Audubon report is a call to action.  “We need to act now in order to make sure that the habitat is here for the birds species of North America. It’s absolutely our responsibility.”

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