Climate change: It’s not for the birds

Cover pic courtesy of

The world has changed since 1930, in so many ways...there are a lot more of us, we’re using a lot more land, and the world temperature is up by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may not think about it but birds, certainly the birds, are affected. But just how much has been a perplexing question. Birds always seem to be there. We all know birds “fly south” for the winter, but are they having to come as far south in a warming world? And, if not, is where they are migrating a suitable habitat? The Audubon Society released an interesting study about bird migration. Consider this beautiful bird, the white-breasted nuthatch:

courtesy: Pixabay

Over the past 90 years, during the Christmas season (Dec. 14-Jan. 5), citizen scientists do what the Audubon Society calls a Christmas Bird Count, kind of a census. Volunteers literally choose one 24-hour period and count birds in a 15-mile diameter. The society takes the 140 million bird observations and sort 89 species of Eastern U.S. birds into groups. They found that all the bird groups are responding to climate change -- temperature and precipitation. Large birds were found to be migrating farther north than previously and those birds that are highly dependent on their habitat (like grasslands or wetlands) are finding it more challenging to locate the perfect spot.

Audubon scientists are analyzing the data to determine a bird’s range -- meaning an area where a particular species can be found during its lifetime, where they migrate or hibernate. You can see from the map below that our Nuthatch is losing range across the U.S. -- the area in red is “lost range”. They are now being found more in Canada!

The range--where a species lives--of the white-breasted nuthatch has shifted northward as the red indicates where range has been lost

The study’s lead author, Sarah Saunders, uses mathematical and statistical tools to study birds. She analyzed 90 years of Christmas Bird Counts with at least one conclusion: “Birds tell us that climate change is already having an effect on them, but not all birds are equally vulnerable to climate change. If we want to give birds the best chance at survival, habitat conservation needs to be part of our efforts to fight climate change. We can still secure a future for birds and people, but the science is clear: we need to act on climate now.”

The full report from the Audubon Society is right here.

Galveston and FeatherFest

One of the Island’s biggest draws every year is the April FeatherFest as bird watchers literally flock to what is geographically a part of the migration highway, or “central flyway,” from Canada to Mexico. Seemingly, endless numbers of different birds can be spotted like “Black Skimmer, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and many species of shorebirds, gulls, terns, sandpipers, plovers, and more.” They have lots of classes and photo tips and field trips for birdwatching. Costs are minimal and this year’s FeatherFest is from April 21-24. You can learn more about FeatherFest and register right here. And if you bird enthusiasts are also witnessing curious migrations or rare species, let me know!

By the way, we have a perfect weekend to watch pretty much anything! Enjoy!


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.