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New study finds birds will need to head further north

  • Sep 23, 2014
  • 366 words
  • 2 minutes
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Canada better make some room.

A new study, by New York-based conservation group, the National Audubon Society, found that as the climate changes, birds are flying further north to find more suitable climatic conditions.

“Climate change is displacing hundreds of bird species, many of which are headed deeper into the heart of Canada,” Gary Lagham, the society’s chief scientist, stated in release of the report.

But as they migrate to more suitable climate areas, these birds are losing other parts of their habitat in the process — like apt vegetation or food supply. There are also new competitors and no guarantee the birds will be able to adapt to new environments. For example, a bird used to grasslands could have a hard time in dense forest.

The group looked at 30 years of past citizen science data on birds by looking at the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They then used that data and matched it with 19 bioclimatic variables to look into the past and build a relationship between birds and climates in North America.

With this new relationship in mind, the society studied 588 species and found 314 of them were either threatened or endangered because of this shift in ranges caused by climate changes.

Some species are already showing significant declines. The Canada warbler, rusty blackbird and olive-sided flycatcher have lost half of their populations. And birds already adapted to the far north, like the ivory gull, may soon have nowhere to go.

“If we can make space available for all birds where they are now and where they’re going to be, we can give them a better chance,” says Tom Auer, a scientist at the society who was also directly involved with the study.

But Canada isn’t the only place affected. As the lower 48 states lose their bird counts, that poses a natural overall changing effect in North America.

“Each unique species is an important part of an ecosystem,” Auer says. “Any time we lose our specialized species of habitats, the overall ecosystem is degraded and not as resilient to changes in the future. It’s important that we keep these birds around.”


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