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Noon Edition

Birds In Danger

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Y:        Y’know Don, I’m worried about the future of birds in North America.

D:        Why is that Yaël?

Y:        First, a large team of North American researchers published a study showing that the bird population of North America has dropped by twenty-nine percent since 1970.  That’s about three billion fewer birds.  The researchers think this was due to human-related causes like destruction of habitat, pesticides, collisions with human structures, and house cats.

D:        I see, and with the climate crisis, things can only get worse.

Y:        That’s right. Another study, published in 2019 by Audubon Society scientists projected the impact of global climate change on North American bird species in this century. They concluded that two-thirds of all these species are at risk of extinction if global climate change continues unabated at current rates.

D:        But how do we know we can trust these projections?

Y:        They are the best available.  The ornithologists relied on a massive database of over one hundred and forty million sightings of over six hundred North American bird species to determine each species’ geographical range.  The findings were carefully assessed by experts.  Then the researchers used climate change models to predict the impact on each species range.  They considered several scenarios and concluded that birds would fare best in a world where mean global temperature increase was held below one point five degrees Celsius by actions to curb the use of fossil fuels.

D:        What worries me, Yaël, is that the ability of birds to fly makes them more resilient than most other animals to changes in their habitat. Climate change could have a worse impact on them.

Kingfisher on a branch.

Many species of North American birds are at risk of extinction. (Charles J. Sharp, Wikimedia Commons)

There is reason to worry about the future of birds in North America. A large team of researchers published a study showing that the bird population of North America has dropped by 29 percent since 1970. That's about three billion fewer birds. The researchers think this was due to human-related causes like destruction of habitat, pesticides, collsions with human structures, and house cats.

With the climate crisis, things can only get worse. Another study, published in 2019 by Audobon Society scientists projected the impact of global climate change on North American bird species in this centuruy. They concluded that two-thirds of all these species are at risk of extinction if global climate change continues unabated at current rates.

Currently these projections are the best available. The ornithologists relied on a massive database of over 140 million sightings of over 600 North American bird species to determine each species' geographical range. The findings were carefully assessed by experts. 

Then the researchers used climate change models to predict the impact on each species range. They considered several scenarios and concluded that birds would fare best in a worl where mean global temperature increase was held below 1.5 degrees Celsius by actions to curb the use of fossil fuels.

What is most worrisome is that the ability of birds to fly makes them more resilient than most other animals to changes in their habitat. Climate change could have a worse impact on them.

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