Shifting Skies: Migratory Birds in a Warming World

Shifting Skies: Migratory Birds in a Warming World details how a warming climate could lead to a decline in some bird populations and even some extinction if action is not taken to curb GHG emissions and adopt “climate-smart” conservation strategies. Recommendations are provided on how to address climate impacts on wildlife by reducing carbon pollution, and for safeguarding species from the current and future impacts of climate change.

This report describes the vulnerabilities of birds and their habitats to climate change by providing an overview of major impacts such as loss of coastal habitat due to sea level rise, extreme weather, change in timing of food availability, and the proliferation of pests like the mountain pine beetle which can destroy entire forests.

Select species of four categories - upland game birds, songbirds, wetland birds, and ocean and coastal birds - are detailed for demonstrating each of these impacts of climate change.

Migratory birds are highlighted for the particularly strong implications of climate change on their survival.  The report explains that every fall, some 350 bird species leave their breeding grounds in North America to fly to Central of South America for the winter, and then return again in the spring. Their journey entails finding suitable habitats in multiple locations, including on their breeding grounds, along their migratory corridors, and on their wintering grounds - each of which are affected by climate change. “One broken link in this chain could pose a major challenge and threaten the integrity of the entire chain and the species, themselves.”

Climate change is causing entire shifts in geographic ranges of birds. As temperatures have increased, 177 of 305 species of birds tracked in North America have shifted northward by 35 miles on average during winters over the past four decades. Birds and their habitats are not likely to shift at the same rate, or even into and from the same areas.

Birds everywhere are an integral part of our natural ecosystems, pollinating plants and dispersing their seeds, thereby facilitating genetic exchange and seed germination, for example. Birds also play important roles in controlling populations  of some insect pests, such as mosquitoes and Japanese beetles.

The report portrays the relevance of birds as an esthetic part of our lives, and moreover as significant to the U.S economy.  As described - in 2011, more than $54 billion was spent to watch wildlife, including more than $4 billion to purchase seed for wild birds, and migratory game bird hunters invested more than $1.8 billion.




Publication Date: June 18, 2013

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Doug Inkley

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Resource Types:

  • Assessment

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