The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
The Most Extensive Study Yet on Birds and Climate Change
In October, the National Audubon Society released the most detailed analysis ever done on the likely effects of climate change on North American birds. The “Survival by Degrees” report uses a huge dataset of bird occurrence records – from eBird, the Christmas Bird Count, and the Breeding Bird Survey, among other sources – and combines that with the latest climate models to predict how different climate scenarios will affect the ranges of 604 bird species. The study analyzes the effects of 1.5°, 2°, and 3° C increase in average temperature by 2080. The climate models come from a report by an international panel of more than 800 climate change experts called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report. The models are based on CMIP5 data from the AR5—IPCC 5th assessment.
The report includes guild-based*/habitat-based analysis of bird species, such as grasslands, arctic, boreal, coastal, aridlands, etc., with tailored modeling with specific variables, particularly in summer and winter. It also incorporates estimates of localized impacts of Earth’s changing climate:
• Sea level rise
• Cropland expansion
• Extreme weather
• Fire weather
• Heavy rain
• False springs
• Lake level changes
*Guilds are groups of species in a community that exploit the same set of resources in a similar manner, but are not necessarily closely related taxonomically.
What are the report’s primary findings?
Audubon’s new science shows that two-thirds (64%) (389 out of 604) of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. The good news is that the science also shows that if we take action now we can help improve the changes for 76% of species at risk.
Where can I read the full report?
You can download the report in PDF form in both English and Spanish at www.audubon.org. Extensive coverage is also included in the Fall 2019 issue of Audubon magazine.
What geographical range does the study cover?
The study covers North America.
How are birds where I live projected to respond to global warming?
Audubon has created an amazing online “Birds and Climate Visualizer” which provides detailed maps of how birds in your area are likely to be affected. Go to https://www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees and type in your zip code and it will show you how climate change will impact your community and your local birds—and it includes ways you can help.
Results for Some Southern Oregon Birds
I used the Birds and Climate Visualizer tool to check on the predictions for some familiar and beloved Oregon birds. The analysis included 204 Oregon bird species, 54% of which were rated as in “High” or “Moderate” vulnerability categories – that is, predicted to lose at least half their current North American range under the 3° C warming scenario.
Even when warming is predicted to be “only” 2° C, 46% of our birds remain in these vulnerability categories. Some examples for 3° C of warming are given below. Species in italics are predicted to lose all or almost all of their summer range in Oregon.
Great Gray Owl: 97% of current range lost
Townsend’s Solitaire: 83%
Vaux’s Swift: 80%
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 75%
Canada Jay: 71%
Rufous Hummingbird: 71%
Varied Thrush: 68%
Orange-crowned Warbler: 63%
Acorn Woodpecker: 57%
Are birds with ranges that are shown to expand or shift “safe” from climate change?
Not necessarily. The Audubon models look at the most fundamental climate needs each species requires for survival; they do not take specifics of habitat into account. For example, the models predict that the range of the Acorn Woodpecker in Oregon will expand east of the Cascades, based on predicted milder winters. However, the oak woodlands that the species needs for survival are currently highly localized east of the Cascades. How long will it take extensive oak woodlands to establish themselves? Until they do, Acorn Woodpeckers will not be able to expand their range in Oregon – and are predicted to lose most of their range in interior California as summer temperatures soar.
What does 1.5 C and 3.0 C mean?
Our planet has been warming rapidly since the Industrial Revolution and scientists are measuring our average global temperature based on historic averages. In fact, we have already reached 1.0 C and we see the impacts with stronger hurricanes in the East and severe drought in the West.
Thousands of climate scientists around the world study our environment by considering three future warming scenarios: 1.5° C (2.7 F), 2.0° C (3.6 F) and 3.0° (5.4 F). The consensus is that our goal should be to hold warming at 1.5 otherwise we will face increasingly dire consequences if the planet warms more than 2.0 C. If we do nothing, 1.5° C is imminent, 2.0° C would happen as soon as 2050 and 3.0° C would happen by the end of the century.
In order to hold warming steady we must act now to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. The bottom line is that by 2050 we must break even in carbon emissions by reducing the amount of carbon we produce and by absorbing what is produced through natural solutions like reforestation or with technology that removes carbon from the air.
What We Can Do: The fall issue of Audubon magazine has a great “Climate Action Guide,” which I encourage everyone to check out for lots of specific ideas. Meanwhile, here is a summary of some key steps:
Reduce your use of energy at home and ask your elected officials to support energy-saving policies that reduce the overall demand for electricity and that save consumers money.
Ask your elected officials to expand consumer-driven clean energy development that grows jobs in your community – like solar or wind power.
Reduce the amount of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere. In order to drive down carbon emissions, we will need innovative economy-wide solutions that address every sector of the economy – like a fee on carbon. Another option is to address carbon emissions one sector at a time like setting a clean energy standard for electricity generation.
Advocate for natural solutions, from increasing wetlands along coasts and rivers that absorb soaking rains to protecting forests and grasslands that are homes to birds and serve as carbon storage banks, and putting native plants everywhere to help birds adapt to climate change.
Ask elected leaders to be climate and conservation champions.
Thanks for all you do.