Birds and Climate Change

The Audubon Climate Report was announced in September 2014. It predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American birds. The climate needs for each species of birds studied was defined. “Climate suitability” includes the range of temperature, precipitation, and seasonal changes. Then greenhouse gas emissions data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was used to map where each bird’s ideal climatic range may be found in the future as the climate changes.

The range maps are animated guides to where a particular bird species may find its “climatic range” in 2020, 2050 and 2080 time periods beginning with where the bird found suitable climate based on 2000 data. Some bird species will and some will not be able to shift to potential future ranges but some ranges that have shifted are also shrinking.

The maps are color coded by season and depict ranges that may expand or contract or shift. Of the 588 North American Bird species studied, global warming puts at risk 314 species including 126 classified as climate endangered and projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. Another 188 species are classified as climate threatened and projected to lose more than 50 percent of current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current rate.

Maps will improve as more data becomes available. The information is being used to identify priority areas for conservation. Further study is needed regarding the models of future climate ranges. While climate is important, appropriate habitat includes the right food sources, sites for nesting and safety from predators. Some projected ranges may not be suitable because of development, distance from winter range, or fragmentation of habitat. Citizen science matters! Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Surveys and data from the Annual Census was used to predict bird’s responses to climate change.

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