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Vermont’s birds threatened by global warming, new Audubon study reveals

By the National Audubon Society

Global warming threatens the survival of nearly half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada, including many of Vermont’s birds, warn National Audubon Society scientists in a groundbreaking new study released in September. Local birds at risk include the black-throated blue warbler, bobolink, common loon, hermit thrush and white-throated sparrow.
“Every year, migrating birds tell us that the seasons are changing, likewise the changes we are seeing in bird populations are telling us that global warming is underway. But more importantly, the birds are warning us that if we don’t start acting now our forests, fields, lakes and ponds will go silent as we lose dozens of species of birds and all the benefits they provide,” said Jim Shallow, Audubon Vermont’s Conservation and Policy Director.
Of 588 bird species examined in the seven-year study, 314 species are at risk. Of those, 126 species are at risk of severe declines by 2050, and another 188 species face the same fate by 2080, with numerous extinctions possible if global warming continues on its current trajectory. The Audubon report says that hundreds of species not previously considered at risk will be challenged to survive in a climate-changed future.
“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the investigation. “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 us.”
Langham and other Audubon ornithologists analyzed more than 40 years of historical North American climate data and millions of historical bird records from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them. Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive—and not survive—in the future.
Audubon’s study shows how climate conditions including rainfall, temperature and changing seasons—the building blocks for ecosystems and species survival—may have catastrophic consequences when tipping those balances.
While some species will be able to adapt to shifting climates, many of North America’s most familiar and iconic species will not.
“The prospect of such staggering loss is horrific, but we can build a bridge to the future for America’s birds,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “We know that if we help avoid the worst impacts of climate change for birds, we’re doing the same for our kids. And this new report can be a roadmap to help birds weather the storm of global warming.”
Audubon launched a new web portal – Audubon.org/Climate – dedicated to understanding the links between birds and global warming, including animated maps and photographs of the 314 species at risk, a technical report and in-depth stories from the September-October issue of Audubon magazine, which is also devoted to the topic.
“Since 1600, only about nine bird species have gone extinct in North America, but over the next 60 years in Vermont alone, the hermit thrush and other species including the black-throated blue warbler and white-throated sparrow could largely disappear from Vermont’s forests, said Shallow. “We know that people across the state are taking this threat personally because birds matter to them. Audubon Vermont is currently working with more than 300 landowners who collectively own more than 280,000 acres to manage their woodlots and fields to improve breeding bird habitat. Audubon Vermont is committed to identifying the best habitats for birds today and where they will still be able to live in the future, even as climate changes. Protecting large intact forests and managing them and other important habitats with birds in mind is the best bet for protecting the species in the face of future climate change.”

The National Audubon Society, nonprofit conservation organization, saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon Vermont is the state program of the National Audubon Society representing 4,000 members in the state, and is engaging people of all ages in education, conservation, stewardship and action to protect birds, other wildlife and their habitats.