Audubon View

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Audubon View

The consequences of a warming climate--habitat loss, wildfires, flooding, and drought--threaten birds.

By David Yarnold
Published: September-October 2013

Climate change is the greatest threat to birds and biodiversity since humans have been on the planet. It's hard to fathom this: Scientists say we stand to lose one-quarter to one-third of all species on earth. And birds will be hit hard.

As overwhelming as that seems, it's really pretty straightforward. If we do nothing, the consequences will be grave. Habitat loss, wildfires, flooding and drought, invasive species, and other changes are going to stress the environment so severely that dozens, if not hundreds, of birds could disappear. At a recent community event in California, someone asked me, "If birds lose habitat due to climate change, can't they just fly somewhere else?"

For some birds, yes. But many species will just run out of places to live and things to eat. Here's an example: the yellow-billed magpie in my native Northern California. The magpie depends on oak trees for breeding and nesting. And as temperatures continue their seemingly inexorable climb northward, oak trees will find it too warm to grow in the Sierra foothills. The bottom line: fewer oak trees, fewer magpies.

Nature is out of sync. More than 80 percent of plant and animal species studied have shown shifts in the timing of migration or reproduction, altered habitat or migratory routes, or other changes associated with our warming climate. The golden-winged warbler's breeding range has receded to higher elevations and nearly 100 miles north in just two decades. In the Rockies, earlier blooming times for glacier lilies mean that when hummingbirds arrive in the spring, the flowers they rely on are already gone.

In record numbers, Americans understand we're seeing the effects of climate change sooner than we expected. That realization is happening largely because people are feeling early onset climate impacts, from Hurricane Sandy's floods to rashes of deadly tornadoes in the Midwest to devastating western forest fires. Increasingly, I'm hearing from Chapter leaders that they agree that it's time for America to come out of the climate closet and lead the way we know how to. Whether you're concerned about birds, biodiversity, or people, this is the most significant threat we all face, and addressing it is the most important thing we can do.

As the Voice of Birds, we need to make sure we're heard loud and clear. The White House's current proposal to regulate carbon pollution from power plants while encouraging the deployment of renewable energy is a good starting point. Where should you start? Tell your local elected officials, especially members of Congress. You know what they tell the Beltway media? That when they go back to their home districts, they don't hear your concern about birds or climate change. Is it because you are not telling them--or because they think conservation has only one party?

Please. Do it for the birds. Do it for our children. Do it for their legacy.

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Author Profile

David Yarnold

David Yarnold is the president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

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