Some of Washington state’s most popular birds could disappear in the coming decades because climate change threatens their habitat, a new study by the National Audubon Society warns.
The study finds over half of Washington’s birds are climate threatened or endangered, says Trina Bayard, director of bird conservation with the Audubon Society of Washington. Bayard calls the findings “alarming.”
“It’s the first time we’ve seen what the future might look like for birds in North America. This study is a real wake-up call. It presents a very stark picture of our future,” she says.
According to the study, global warming will eliminate between 50 and 100 percent of current ranges for 126 species by 2050, with no possibility of birds moving elsewhere, if current trends continue. Another 188 other species face the loss of more than 50 percent of their range by 2080, but may be able to colonize elsewhere farther north, primarily in Canada.
Bayard says beyond birds, the study paints a troubling picture for humans as well.
“We see birds as an early warning system for the health of the environment on which we all depend. Even if you’re not a person who spends a lot of time thinking about birds or going bird watching, we know that we all need the same clean air, clean water and ecosystems,” she says.
While some might call the findings overly alarmist, Bayard says the authors were extremely conservative in their research and compilation of data.
“Our scientists were careful every step of the way to make sure the approach they were using was carefully considered and the species they were using had adequate data available.”
Bayard says the study analyzed 30 years of North American climate data and tens of thousands of historical bird observations.
Among the most threatened birds in Washington state are the Bald Eagle, Mallard and Rufous Hummingbird, the study finds.
As a result of the findings, the Audubon Society is recommending increased protection of existing bird habitat and identify potential future habitat that could be protecting. It’s also pushing for drastic reductions in greenhouse emissions.