Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adapting to change

The Houston Chronicle online has a story about the release this week of a study entitled "The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change." The state of the birds report is updated and released every year. Last year's report highlighted the fact that nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in decline due to challenges such as the loss of wetlands, commercial hunting and pesticides. As the title suggests, this year's study focuses on the effects of climate change on bird populations.

Changes in climate are an immediate threat to oceanic birds like albatrosses and petrels because of the changes being wrought in marine ecosystems and the rising sea levels. But, in the longer term, as we have deeper and longer droughts, more intense flooding, and, in some places, colder winters, or other phenomena associated with climate change, birds of the forests or arid regions or even suburban backyards are threatened by the changes.

Already scientists have documented that migration and nesting patterns are changing for some birds. From our own observations, we can attest that very many tropical birds are moving farther and farther north each year. Their presence delights birders, but, in some cases, they may increase pressure on birds that are already residents here, making survival harder for them.

This is just one more challenge for birds that are already stressed by loss of habitat and by the effects of pollution. Endangered birds like Texas' own Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black-capped Vireo and Whooping Crane are, thus, even more at risk. For birds that are already fighting for their survival, climate change may just be the final straw.

I would never count birds out though. They are nothing if not adaptable. That's why we have birds instead of dinosaurs in our backyards.

Birds spend their lifetimes adjusting to changes around them and some become even more successful with the changes. But change is a stressor and why would we want to do anything to make more difficult the lives of the birds that give us so much pleasure?

This report makes some suggestions for ways that we humans can mitigate the negative impact on birds. These include very common sense things like habitat restoration, the creation of new wildlife refuges, regulations to reduce bird kills in fishing operations, and the reduction of greenhouse gases. I think all of these suggestions are things that anyone who loves birds can support.

You can read the full report at: http://www.stateofthebirds.org.

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