The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Global Warming

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The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Global Warming

Report Prepared by: Jeff Price, Ph.D., American Bird Conservancy, "The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Global Warming" (Patricia Glick, M.S., National Wildlife Federation)
American Bird Conservancy | PDF | 1.92 MB | 34 pages | 04-03-2002

Birds, by their very existence, enhance our daily lives. For many of us, it is a thrill to see the splash of a Brown Thrasher in a birdbath, or the flash of red in green woods as a tanager darts past. It is a gift of nature that such birds – which play an important role in healthy ecosystems by controlling pests, dispersing seeds, and pollinating plants – are also so beautiful and such a joy to watch. More than sixty-three million Americans are birdwatchers, injecting billions of dollars into local economies throughout the nation as they purchase birdseed, binoculars, and guidebooks and venture into outdoor environments that are made so much more welcoming by the sights and songs of birds. But, as nature’s indicators, birds are also showing signs that our environment is changing.

Human activity – particularly the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas – is sending tremendous additional quantities of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The buildup of these gases is causing the planet to heat up and is altering the basic climate systems to which nature is adapted. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that some birds (as well as plants and other wildlife) are already responding to the changing climate.

As we explain in this report, recent studies indicate that this global warming could affect birds in many ways, shifting their distributions and altering their migration behavior and habitat, and even diminishing their survival ability. In some places, we may no longer see our favorite birds – as many as 33 states could see a significant reduction in American Goldfinches in the summer! As birdwatchers, we enjoy seeing the same birds we have always cherished in our backyards or on a favorite hike. What’s more, we understand that if a bird’s range shifts even a few miles, it can have a trickle-down effect for wildlife sharing its ecosystem.