A New Audubon Report Reveals That North America's Bird Species Face Extinction Threats Due to Climate Change
Orioles, eagles, and gulls are just some of the species that may not be able to survive rising temperatures. Here's what you can do right now to help, according to Audubon's CEO and president.
More than 380 different species of birds could be gravely endangered if current global warming trends continue to rise to 3 degrees Celsius, or about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a new report from the National Audubon Society. Around 64 percent of the 604 species that live and breed on the North American continent—including orioles, eagles, gulls, and grouse varieties—are highly susceptible to gradual temperature changes due to climate change overall, Audubon officials report. Their new findings serve as a follow up to a previous study published in the journal Science last month, which pointed to data suggesting that bird populations have dropped by nearly 30 percent since 1970.
"Our findings in this report are the fifth alarm in a five-alarm fire," David O'Neill, Audubon's Chief Conservation Office, writes in the new report, entitled Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink. Brooke Bateman, a senior climate scientist at Audubon, told CNN that the findings largely rest on the fact that changes in temperature also affect natural vegetation, coupled with already alarming trends in precipitation changes year over year. "And birds are going to have to move and shift to keep up with these changes. And then on top of the range shifts, we also have the pressure of changes in sea level rise, urbanization, extreme weather events that are going to affect these species no matter where they go."
Scientists drew on more than just recent data to fuel Audubon's most recent report; they used decades of data collected by bird watchers at Audubon across the nation, with a database made up of more than 140 million records documenting birds in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The data, paired with climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, helped them evaluate the habitats of all birds living in North America. Projected increases in droughts as well as rising temperatures, among other factors, helped the report's authors determine the 389 species of birds that would face extinction if global warming trends continue unchecked.
David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, tells Martha Stewart Living that the report's findings are meant to inspire action—after all, research suggests that if global leaders in North America can keep global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, per 2016's UN Paris Agreement, then three quarters of the bird species in question should survive. Yarnold shares that Audubon supports climate advocacy, and encourages those who are passionate about the topic to get involved in local policies. "You can ensure your public schools or municipal buildings have solar power," Yarnold says, adding that Audubon offers online resources for those who need help in getting started. "We encourage talking to your local legislators about the importance of climate action."
But how might you be able to help the native birds living in your immediate surroundings, you might ask? Yarnold shares that Audubon officials have created a new climate reporting tool that allows you to pinpoint which birds might be living in your backyard. "Explore your birds in your backyard, and tell your friends and neighbors about [what you've learned]; you can also learn about the larger sets of birds that are in your area… and the different threats that birds face individually," he says.
The most immediate solution, however, might be awaiting you in your backyard. Using Audubon's native plants tool, you can create a sanctuary for endangered species in your own backyard. "Planting native plants while birds are threatened is the best thing you can do for birds," Yarnold says, adding that Audubon's database allows you to filter plant suggestions based on the birds you'd like to see in your garden. "The average oak tree holds more than 500 species of insects, whereas a ginkgo tree supports just five on average. Native plants are one of the best things you can do to help birds weather a changing climate…and you can do this whether you have a patio in Brooklyn, or a yard in Bedford."