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Birds’ movements reveal global warming threat, says report

Feb. 14, 2009: The northward and inland movement of North American birds, confirmed by thousands of citizen-observations, provides new and powerful evidence that global warming is having a serious impact on natural systems, according to new analyses by Audubon scientists.

The findings signal the need for dramatic policy changes to combat pervasive ecological disruption.

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“Audubon’s findings released today make clear that Ohio is witnessing ecological disruption as a result of global warming.  This amounts to running an unplanned and uncontrolled experiment of massive proportions whose severity we cannot fully predict,” states Audubon Ohio spokesperson Marnie Urso.

According to Urso, “Ohio is poised to take action that will stop global warming and protect birds and our environment.  With new leadership in Washington, this is a critical moment for our congressional delegation to take the lead. If we delay it will be even harder for our country to address our collective energy, economic and global warming challenges and to prevent the worst impacts from global warming.”

Species wintering farther north show need for policy change
A report released on Feb. 10, 2009, by the National Audubon Society documents a trend of northward and inland movement of North American birds over the past 40 years. The report provides powerful evidence that global warming is having a serious impact on natural systems.

The impacts, based on analyses of citizen-gathered data from the past 40 years of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) reveal that several bird species in Ohio are moving in a manner consistent with this trend.

For example, the wintering populations of the Eastern Towhee have shifted north by more than 200 miles and the Northern Pintail has shifted northward by more than 90 miles.  U.S.-American Robin numbers wintering in Ohio have increased five-fold over the last 40 years, as part of a general increase and northward shift by the species over the whole continent. 

According to noted bird expert, Kenn Kaufman, “Robins are extremely adaptable birds, and the fact that they’re shifting their range suggests that something big is going on.  Birds that are less adaptable, and unable to shift to new habitats so quickly, are likely to be squeezed out by climate change.” 

The national findings show that, among 305 bird species that winter widely on the continent, 58 percent shifted significantly north since 1968, some by hundreds of miles. Movement was detected among species of every type, including more than 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds.

Only 38 percent of grassland species mirrored the trend, reflecting the constraints of their severely-depleted habitat and suggesting that they now face a double threat from the combined stresses of habitat loss and climate adaptation. 

Population shifts among individual species are common, fluctuate, and can have many causes.  However, Audubon scientists said the ongoing trend of movement by some 177 species—closely correlated to long-term winter temperature increases—revealed an undeniable link to the changing climate.

Audubon scientists say habitats already under siege from development, energy production and agricultural expansion and other human uses will require enhanced protection and restoration to sustain bird populations and provide ecological benefits essential to human health, economic prosperity and quality of life—the double-layered Wall being built to separate the United States from Mexico doesn’t help. 

National Wildlife Federation spokesperson, Jim Wentz adds “Waterfowl managers are facing the loss of migration predictability. This affects hunting seasons, and habitat management.

The report comes as President Obama and U.S. Congressional leaders are calling for swift action to move the U.S. toward a clean energy economy.  After years of relative inaction at the national level in the U.S, Congress and the Obama administration are poised to move forward with comprehensive global warming and energy legislation in 2009.  

The full report, state-specific information, bird photos and multimedia can be found at www.Audubon.org. Audubon is also urging citizens to take action by signing a national petition demanding aggressive federal policy action at birdsandclimate.org

 

 

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