Two-Thirds Of North American Birds May Disappear From Global Temperature Increases, Audubon Report Suggests


The yellow warbler is one bird at risk of extinction across the continent. Brian Collier/Audubon Photography Awards

In an analysis of more than 140 million bird observations across North America, scientists with the National Audubon Society have found that nearly two-thirds of the continent’s bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change-related global temperature increases.  

The findings come after a report last month found that North America had lost nearly one-third of its birds. Now, an analysis of two separate studies has added to the society’s previous Birds and Climate Change Report by combining climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the range of more than 600 North American bird species analyzed from millions of observations recorded by birders and scientists.


Impacts from sea level rise, urbanization, extreme weather, fires, and heavy rainfall will force birds from their current home region to find more ideal locations, some of which may not survive. In all, 389 out of 604 birds analyzed are at risk of extinction. Climate change is occurring 20 times faster today than at any other period in the last 2 million years, increasing global species extinction rates around the world, according to the report.

National Audubon Society/Birds and Climate Change Report

Nearly 64 percent of North American birds are vulnerable to climate change, according to the first analysis that determined the risk from climate change-related threats. To come to their conclusions, researchers looked at 544 birds in the US to see what threats they face under an increase of 1.5°C and 3°C and then how they compare with other threats. They determined that birds are affected in both the breeding and non-breeding seasons and nearly every species will face at least one climate-related threat in each season. Extreme weather had the most significant influence, followed by urbanization and sea-level rise. As temperatures increased, so did the risk factors for certain bird species, including iconic American birds like the scarlet tanager, goldfinch, greater sage-grouse, the common loon, and piping plover.

Climate change will exacerbate the rate of biodiversity being lost across the world, pushing birds to “seek new locations… drastically reshuffling the avian communities of North America.” However, mitigation could reduce the risk to birds across 90 percent of the US.

In a second study, researchers analyzed strategies to reduce the vulnerability of certain bird species. Researchers used data to develop species distribution models and assessed the vulnerability of 604 birds to multiple climate scenarios. The results indicate that “over two-thirds of North American birds are moderately or highly vulnerable to climate change under a 3°C global warming scenario,” wrote the authors, adding that if action is taken now, more than three-quarters of the bird species would be less vulnerable and more than one-third would be considered non-vulnerable if warming is stabilized at 1.5°C.  


“We already know what we need to do to reduce global warming, and we already have a lot of the tools we need to take those steps. Now, what we need are more people committed to making sure those solutions are put into practice,” said Renee Stone, vice president of climate for the National Audubon Society, in a statement.

An interactive map allows you to enter your zip code and find what local bird species may be affected by increasing temperatures. 


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