Western Water News

Climate Change Threatens Arizona’s Forest Birds

New Audubon report shows about half of Arizona’s birds are vulnerable.

When most folks think of Arizona, they think of the saguaro cactus and red rocks. But the ecology of the 48th state is actually much more diverse—it’s home to spruce and fir trees on the  highest mountains and is home to the largest ponderosa pine forest on the planet.

So, what will a warming planet mean to these forests and the birds that live there?

The Arizona section of Audubon’s latest report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink features the Painted Redstart, a colorful summer resident and breeding bird in the state’s pine forests. But the Painted Redstart is vulnerable to a changing climate.

In Arizona, 102 out of 242 species are climate vulnerable in summer under a 3 degrees Celsius temperature increase. Of those 102 species, the 44 species that summer in Arizona’s forests will be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The greatest climate-related threats to Arizona forests are wildfire and drought. Drought results in bark beetle outbreaks that kill trees, and a smaller snowpack in the winter. Higher temperatures may also prevent the return of forest trees, which will be replaced by more heat and drought tolerant plants such as fire prone shrubs.

In addition to the Painted Redstart, other forest birds at high risk are Dusky Grouse, Spotted Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Red Crossbill, Acorn Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, Western Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Cassin’s Finch, Hepatic Tanager, and more.

As we know, water is life in the arid West, and Arizona’s forests are the watersheds for our water supplies. Fire and drought threaten our water supplies because soils and sediments end up in the streams and rivers that provide drinking water to Phoenix and nearby cities. Beyond Arizona, the drying and loss of forests in the Rocky Mountains means quicker snowmelts in spring. These snowpacks are the life-blood of the Colorado River basin water supply and we rely on them to melt slowly so we can have drinking water and flowing rivers year-round.

In addition to protecting our forests, we must act to limit the increase in global temperature to only 1.5 degrees C (as opposed to the more dire 3.0 C scenario) by taking action locally and at the federal level to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The birds will thank you and so will future generations.

Help Audubon track what the birds are telling us by joining Audubon’s Climate Watch bird surveys for bluebirds and nuthatches. https://www.audubon.org/conservation/climate-watch


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