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Study: National Park Bird Populations Likely To Change Because Of Climate Change

Alan Vernon
flickr via Compfight
Mountain bluebirds are among the iconic species expected to show up less or not at all in Washington's national parks by 2050 because of climate change, says a new study by scientists at the National Parks Service and the Audubon Society.

Scientists from the Audubon Society and the National Parks Service have teamed up to look at the effects of climate change on birds. The study predicts the behavior of 513 species across 274 national parks in summer and winter.     

The authors found on average nearly a quarter of the bird species found in popular park destinations could be completely different by mid-century.  

The effects look less severe in Washington’s national parks, but still dozens of species are expected to move on as their habitat changes.

Audubon has a slick new website where you can find data on that future. Three of the parks are in Washington state.

“The ones (here) that are going to see the biggest changes are Olympic National Park and Mout Rainier Park,” said Gail Gatton, Executive Director of Audubon Washington.

The third in Washington, North Cascades National Park, ranks as a low-change area in the study, which has five categories describing overall change.

Olympic National Park is labeled "high turnover rate"and Mount Rainier National Park is among the sites noted for "high potential extirpation." The other two categories are "high potential colonization" and "intermediate change."

Overall, the scientists found that national parks become more of a refuge for birds, so people can expect to see more of them there, and some new species will likely move in.

But as the climate warms, some familiar species will also go away. Gatton was shocked to see that all three kinds of commonly seen loons are among the 19 birds that are expected to stop showing up in Olympic National Park.

“And again, loons are just one of these species that everybody sees and loves and they have that sound that – it’s very familiar to people,” Gatton said.

She says other iconic birds people may no longer see here - or see a lot less by 2050 – include the mountain bluebird and the hermit thrush.

The study is peer reviewed and published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to