Birds and climate change

This video by the Audubon Society in the USA says about itself:

8 September 2014

Global warming threatens the survival of nearly half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada, including many of the birds we see every day.

Learn how you can help save our birds:

From BirdLife:

The Messengers: What birds tell us about climate change

By Sanya Khetani-Shah, Thu, 19/11/2015 – 08:51

Human-induced climate change is happening. It is happening so fast that many species will struggle to adapt and survive in the near future, unless we act now.

Already, we can see the impact that rising temperatures are having on plants, animals, birds, people and the benefits that nature provides to people. Birds, being the best-studied group of organisms, are powerful sentinels for the natural world: They tell us how biodiversity is responding to global warming. All this has been documented in a new joint report The Messengers by BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society on climate change, which comes out before the climate change summit in Paris (read the foreword by the heads of both organisations here).

The report – a synthesis of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies – explains with real-world examples how climate change will continue to affect birds and people. The outlook is bleak: from forced migration due to loss of habitat to greater threat from diseases, more competition for lesser food and more frequent extreme weather events. (Read BirdLife International’s official position on climate change here.)

Most scarily, people will experience these same threats, and their responses – such as clearing forests to create new farming and living areas, or creating storm-surge barriers against rising sea levels – could have a substantially negative impact on nature, including loss of habitats and species extinctions.


Birds have in the last decades moved northward both in latitude and altitude to escape warmer temperatures and increasingly inhospitable habitats. So species’ ranges are shrinking and migration cycles are being disrupted, causing population declines. Island species are most strongly affected. In Hawaii, a sea level rise of 2 m would flood 39-91% of Black-footed Albatross nests and 44-100% of Bonin Petrel nests.

The bird species of conservation concern for which IBAs and protected areas have been identified may not remain in these sites as climate changes (the Red-collared Mountain-babbler is projected to lose all habitat in the Albertine Rift Valley of East Africa by 2085). Also, the lack of proper connectivity between suitable habitats will hamper the migration of species, which could leave many vulnerable to extinction.


In recent decades, higher temperatures have resulted in range expansions for disease carriers like mosquitoes. Malaria, dengue and haemorrhagic fever thrive in warm, humid climates. Despite improvements in public health, by 2050, it is estimated that 200 million more people will be exposed to malaria as a result of climate change.

Climate change is also likely to reduce the area of malaria-free habitat for the endemic birds of Hawaii, as the projected lifting of the cloudbase shifts the malaria risk zone to higher altitudes, mirroring the migration of the birds.


As species migrate to new habitats, the composition of bird and non-bird communities will change and the relationships between predators and prey will be disrupted. New competition for dwindling food resources will pose a significant threat to species’ survival.

For example, increasing temperatures in the high Arctic are causing the bringing forward of breeding times for some shorebirds such as Baird’s Sandpiper, but this is not always in line with shifts in the availability of the insects that sandpiper chicks feed on.

By 2050, it is predicted that yields of most important crops will decline in developing countries, exposing an additional 25 million children to malnutrition.

Extreme weather

Extreme weather events and existing threats such as forest fires, typhoons and heat waves are projected to increase in intensity and frequency. By 2100, it is estimated that an additional 52 million people in 84 developing countries will be affected by coastal storm-surges.

Many threatened species are likely to become more imperilled, while most of the species projected to be impacted (according to recent studies) were not previously recognised as under threat. Globally, only a quarter of ‘highly climatically vulnerable’ bird species are listed as threatened by BirdLife International on the IUCN Red List.

The impacts of climate change are likely to increase as temperatures rise further, and while some species (ones that thrive in warmer climates) may see range expansion, there are likely to be more than twice as many species that lose out because of the speed of climate change.

A message of hope: Nature-based solutions

Our report is also intended to send a message of hope: we can reduce the severity of climate change. Happily, while birds are excellent sentinels to the effects of global warming on nature, they are also pointing us to the solutions needed. BirdLife Partners are at the forefront of efforts to implement these responses to benefit both nature and people.

They are not just nature-friendly solutions to minimise greenhouse gas emissions; typical species conservation responses are integrating climate change concerns into their measures. Simply put: Healthy ecosystems remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in biomass. If this biomass is degraded or destroyed, the carbon is released into the atmosphere, causing global warming. So protection and restoration of natural ecosystems is an effective climate change mitigation strategy.

The report shows how BirdLife Partners across the globe are preserving and revitalising ecosystems to help plants, birds, animals and people adapt to climate change and build resilience to its effects. Healthy ecosystems not only support people’s livelihoods, but are also useful as a buffer against climate calamities. BirdLife in Belarus is restoring 51.000 ha of peatland, turning it from a source of carbon into a carbon sink, creating important habitats for threatened waterfowl species and providing a source of clean water to surrounding communities and their farmlands.

The strategic role of IBAs

BirdLife also advocates for the better management and connectivity of protected sites and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), as well as the creation of new ones to help species adapt to climate change by finding new habitats. And when it comes to designating, managing and protecting crucial natural areas, BirdLife has unparalleled knowledge and experience.

Mitigation and renewables

Of course, adapting to climate change isn’t enough, and the report advocates for policy-makers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency (in its broadest sense: from electric cars to changes in lifestyle and a better management of farmland use) and sustainable renewable energy to enable the transition to a low carbon economy.

But when implemented without proper planning, renewable energy infrastructure can make things worse: palm oil plantations displacing tropical forests and wind farms on flyways causing massive bird casualties are clear examples. Proper planning and implementation of renewable energy is paramount, and BirdLife partners have the tools to ensure these solutions do not pose greater threats to nature.

For example, as part of the Renewables Grid Initiative, BirdLife International is helping prevent bird electrocutions on power lines, working with the industry to replace or insulate dangerous poles, strategically locate infrastructure, and develop and implement better practices to reduce bird collisions.

Perhaps most importantly to ensure the climate change mitigation movement keeps its momentum, the report advocates for multi-stakeholder collaboration – working with communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and the government – to come up with effective long-term solutions.

For example, the Association Burundaise for the protection of Nature (ABN, BirdLife in Burundi) is working with the Serukubeze community to better manage their ecosystems in the face of climate change. The community has been empowered to engage with their local government and integrate ecosystem-based adaptation strategies into municipal development plans.

Everyone contributes to climate change and everyone is impacted by it, so raising awareness of the consequences of climate change and potential solutions can help mobilise society to take action and ensure political decisions benefit both people and nature.

Because if climate change is a fact, climate chaos is a choice. One we can, and must, avoid.

See also here.

The RSPB (Royal Society for Protection of Birds, BirdLife in the UK) has been involved in some of the scientific research that has improved our understanding of the effects of climate change. To spread awareness, they have released a new report bringing together scientific evidence on the effects climate change is already having on wildlife across Europe: here.

Italy is creating a ‘nature network’ against urbanisation and climate change: here.

Birds and climate change in the Netherlands: here. In Belarus: here.

2 thoughts on “Birds and climate change

  1. Pingback: Climate change conference in Paris, BirdLife comments | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Unusual bird habitats | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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