The bald eagle is an important icon to several Native American tribes and was adopted as the national bird of the United States in 1782. Unfortunately, the survival of this iconic bird is being threatened by a changing climate. In fact, warming temperatures are a looming danger to 314 species of birds, which is nearly half of all species found in the U.S. These birds could lose anywhere from 50 to 100% of their range, according to a new study from the National Audubon Society, a national bird conservancy organization with nearly 500 local chapters.
Many birds migrate at certain times of the year in order to breed or take advantage of seasonally-available food sources. However, increasingly warm temperatures are causing fluctuations in where and when the birds travel. While some will be able to adapt to their new homes, others will not. Lack of suitable food or competition for resources could drive some birds to extinction. Out of the 314 threatened species described in Audubon’s report, 126 of them could lose over 50% of their range by 2050. The other 188 could lose their range by 2080, though they have the benefit of having more time to adapt.
“It’s a punch in the gut. The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham noted in a press release. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds – and the rest of us – depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and for us.”
Observation data for the report was collected by dedicated bird watchers over the last 30 years. Recording the location and species of the sighting allows scientists to track alterations in migrations over time. Projected greenhouse gas emissions were also factored in when estimating the birds’ ranges in the future. Over the last seven years, scientists have analyzed the data in order to create the most comprehensive projection of how climate change threatens the range of American birds.
“The prospect of such staggering loss is horrific, but we can build a bridge to the future for America’s birds,” Audubon’s President David Yarnold added. “This report is a roadmap, and it’s telling us two big things: We have to preserve and protect the places birds live, and we have to work together to reduce the severity of global warming.”
The National Audubon Society’s website has plenty of interactive maps and information about the birds that are being threatened. In addition to the bald eagle, other iconic birds including the Baltimore Oriole, Common Loon, Burrowing Owl, Greater Sage-Grouse, and Spotted Owl are all in danger of losing their ranges in the coming years.