More than half of the birds in our state are at risk of extinction because of climate change. That's according to a new national report from the Audubon Society, which gives detailed analysis of climate impacts on about 600 species of North American birds — and a state-by-state breakdown of their fates.
It's based on more than 140 million observations of birds across the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Audubon scientists looked at the likely effects of sea-level rise, urbanization, drought, extreme spring heat, increased fires, heavy rain and other factors. And it's interactive, allowing users to plug in their ZIP codes to see how birds are affected where they live.
But it doesn’t just spell out a doomsday scenario. Instead, it offers a range of impacts and warming, depending on how much carbon humans add to the atmosphere, from a baseline 1.5 degrees C to the worst case, 3 degrees C.
“Which is truly an existential threat, not only to birds but to people,” said Doug Santoni, board chair of Audubon Washington, who dug into the report as soon as it came out.
The interface allows users to plug in a specific bird, state or even a ZIP code to see how climate change plays out.
Santoni says he was struck to see the vulnerability of a common "backyard bird," the dark-eyed junco. It’s one that many first-time birders become familiar with as they learn how to identify species based on their markings and other traits. Currently in Washington, you can count on juncos to show up at your feeder, year round.
“But much worse off under the moderate or extreme climate scenario,” he said.
Extreme spring heat, increased fires and heavy rain are the kinds of changes that will force birds like these north, or kill them off if they fail to adapt.
Trina Bayard, director of bird conservation at Audubon’s Washington chapter, says the sheer scope of the science in this new research is impressive.
“It’s certainly a very sobering report," she said, but adds that there's still hope. "If we can stabilize current temperatures and reduce our emissions that we can really reduce the impacts to these birds — that’s very motivating.”
The report is called "Survival By Degrees."