How climate change is impacting every state bird
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Climate change is quickly becoming the biggest threat to the long-term survival of America’s wildlife.” Recently, Audubon scientists studied 604 bird species to assess how their U.S. populations may change; their results for state birds are summarized in this slideshow.
Of course, climate change might seem almost forgotten in today’s cluttered, astonishing news cycle. Yet it remains a very real threat to life on Earth, including human life. A recent Siberian heat wave is among the factors that may accelerate climate change, causing the changes to bird populations to be toward the more extreme forecasts in the Audubon study.
These more extreme forecasts are for scenarios in the 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projecting 3 degrees Celsius of global warming; the lower scenario used by the Audubon team envisages a change of 1.5 C. As the world is on track to surpass that lower temperature rise, this slideshow focuses on changes with 3 C of warming—and on the Audubon forecasts for summer, when birds are breeding.
Climate change is a complex issue—leading to considerable denial, backed by substantial funding—and results in a variety of threats to birds, including increased risk of wildfires and heavy rains, more intense heat waves, and sea-level rise. These in turn are already affecting birds.
Much as coal miners formerly took canaries into mines to warn of carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases, wild birds can be looked to today as indicators of the looming threats from climate change. Doing so, the birds clearly warn of dangerous times upon us, with worse to come.
In reviewing the results for state birds, Stacker found the results are broad as expected: As temperatures warm, ranges of wild birds are tending to shift northward, though the changes are far more pronounced for some species than others. This can mean that birds that like it hot, such as the greater roadrunner—state bird of New Mexico—might expand its ranges in the United States, benefiting from more land becoming baking and arid; but northern species are being pushed toward the very limit of their ranges, with ruffed grouse and hermit thrush forecast to almost disappear or vanish entirely from the conterminous 48 states.
Of course, these changes are not inevitable, as there are ways to slow climate change, yet climate change will continue apace even if countries meet their pledges in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. So, especially if you live somewhere like Minnesota where the common loon may be lost as a breeding bird, it’s perhaps best to enjoy your state bird while you can.
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Alabama: Northern flicker
Although the northern flicker can breed in a wide variety of woodland, it is among 35 bird species rated as facing moderate or high vulnerability to climate change in Alabama—the only state with a woodpecker as its state bird. Rising temperatures could soon drive this flicker, also known as yellowhammer, from the hottest parts of the state, and as climate change intensifies it might only occur in Alabama as a winter bird.
Alaska: Willow ptarmigan
Alaska is undergoing a major transformation as the climate changes, including a decrease in boreal forests, leading to the Audubon study finding 166 of the state’s bird species are facing moderate or high vulnerability to climate change, with just 46 species rated stable or low vulnerability. Along with losing habitat, willow ptarmigan could be threatened by rising numbers of predators such as foxes and crows, which find them easier prey as the white plumage the ptarmigan molt into for the winter makes them stand out rather than camouflaged when snow is later to arrive in autumn, and melts earlier in spring.
Arizona: Cactus wren
As the Cornell Lab notes, “the song of the cactus wren is a quintessential sound of the desert and sounds like a car that just won’t start.” It’s a song that’s become a little less familiar nowadays, as large-scale development has reduced this wren’s habitat. Being adapted to hot, dry conditions, the cactus wren may survive across Arizona and even spread northward as the climate warms, albeit perhaps facing problems finding enough water needed to combat the heat.
Arkansas: Northern mockingbird
Named for its song including mimicry of other birds and even animals, the northern mockingbird has been the state bird of Arkansas since 1929. Though mockingbirds defend their nests against predators, they are susceptible to climate change impacts including wildfires that raze their habitats, along with spring heat waves endangering birds in the nest. However, the Audubon study suggests the mockingbird population may remain stable in Arkansas.
California: California quail
Even by 2009, the range of California quail had shifted 100 miles north as a result of climate change. Though this small game bird has adapted well to living by human communities, its range is set to further shift and contract with more frequent heat waves and increased fire risk seriously threatening its brushy habitats.
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Colorado: Lark bunting
Is it a lark? Is it a bunting? Actually, the lark bunting is a kind of sparrow, and a denizen of grasslands that are being hit by a double whammy of development and climate change. Drought, heat waves, and more frequent fires are set to increasingly impact the short-grass prairie where lark buntings breed, potentially reducing their summer range by two-thirds.
Connecticut: American robin
The American robin is among North America’s most familiar birds, and is a summer visitor to northern regions. Ecologists have found that in 2018, robins set off on their spring migrations some 12 days earlier than in 1994, evidently responding to earlier snowmelt in the north. The Audubon study forecasts that as the climate changes, increased fires that raze habitats along with more extreme heat killing nestlings will be among factors causing the robin to retreat from the south of its range, with reductions in the Connecticut populations.
Delaware: Delaware blue hen
Instead of a wild bird, Delaware opted for a breed of chicken—the Delaware blue hen—as its state bird. While living in farms will help safeguard them against climate change, there is research in the state on developing a breed of chicken that can withstand future heat waves. Perhaps in the future, Delaware might switch its state bird to the climate change-proof superhen. Regarding wild birds, the Audubon study rated 36 species of high or moderate vulnerability to climate change—just over a third of the 99 species rated of low vulnerability or stable.
District of Columbia: Wood thrush
Smaller than an American robin, and better camouflaged, the wood thrush is a bird of eastern forests that’s more easily heard than seen, thanks to the flutey song with which males announce their arrival from Central American winter haunts during spring. Though not on endangered lists yet, its population in the United States plummeted by more than 60% in the past five decades, largely because of forests being felled and fragmented in North America. Now, the forest fragments are susceptible to climate change, which brings impacts such as increased risk of fire and extreme spring heat, and may prompt wood thrushes to breed further north—leading to a possibility they will be gone from the District of Columbia by the end of this century.
Florida: Northern mockingbird
The medium-sized, slender Florida fowl called the northern mockingbird is long-tailed and slender, boasting grayish-white feathers among green tree leaves. Both male and female types sing, often echoing the sounds of other songbirds. While the Audubon study suggests the mockingbird population may remain stable as the climate changes in Florida, the mockingbird population in the state is declining, perhaps as agriculture in the state is less favorable for the species.
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