Climate Change Imperils All Ocean Bird Species, Threatens Many More, New Report Finds

Laysan and Black-footed albatross. Photo by Eric VanderWerf

All 67 species of ocean birds are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. That’s one of the startling findings of a new report, State of the Birds 2010. Hawaiian birds, such as the endangered ’Akiap?l?’au, are also at high risk. Avian species in coastal, arctic or alpine, and grassland habitats, as well as those on Caribbean and other Pacific islands, show intermediate levels of vulnerability. And those that inhabit arid lands, wetlands, and forests face the least danger.

The report is a joint effort between government agencies and leading conservation organizations, including Audubon. Last year’s State of the Birds found that nearly 60 percent of species’ ranges have shifted north significantly, and that there is “an
undeniable link” to climate change.

“Accelerated climate change as a result of human activities is altering the natural world as we know it, diminishing the quality of our environment. This report calls attention to the collective efforts needed to protect nature’s resources for the benefit of people and wildlife,” the authors write.

For bird species that are already of conservation concern such as the golden-cheeked warbler, whooping crane, and spectacled eider, the added vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery, the report found.

It also identified common bird species such as the American oystercatcher, common nighthawk, and northern pintail that are likely to become species of conservation concern as a result of climate change.

There area solutions, the authors say. Namely, using adaptive management to respond to changing habitats. To facilitate and design adaptation strategies, the Interior Department opened the first of eight new regional Climate Science Centers last week in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Just as they did in 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, our migratory birds are sending us a message about the health of our planet,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release. “That is why--for the first time ever--the Department of the Interior has deployed a coordinated strategy to plan for and respond to the impacts of climate change on the resources we manage.”

"Fortunately, people can still make a difference for these birds and for the future. We can restore and protect the critical habitats that will help vulnerable species to weather challenges of a changing climate. We can demand the local and legislative changes that can shrink our contribution of climate-altering emissions. The birds are telling us we must act now,” said Audubon President Frank Gill in a press release.

The report came out of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a collaboration between federal and state wildlife agencies, and scientific and conservation organizations including partners from the American Bird Conservancy, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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