Press Room

New Mexico’s Bird Species Threatened by Global Warming ‘Gut Punch,’ New Audubon Study Reveals

CONTACT: Staci Stevens, Communications & Policy Manager, Audubon New Mexico

 

cell: 202-294-3101, sstevens@audubon.org

 


Global warming threatens nearly half of the regularly occurring bird species in the Continental United States and Canada with extinction, including many of New Mexico’s birds, warn National Audubon Society scientists in a groundbreaking new study released today. Some local birds at risk include the following: Burrowing Owl, Black Rosy-Finch, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Red-faced Warbler, Sandhill Crane, and the Western Bluebird.


“This new study sounds the warning siren; business as usual could mean devastation for many beloved bird species,” said Raymond VanBuskirk, President of the greater Albuquerque’s Central New Mexico Audubon Society.  Raymond and his team of researchers have been studying the winter ecology of Rosy-Finches at Sandia Crest for the past 10 years, and have noticed a significant decrease in overall population size. Whereas some bird species can easily move to new areas when the climate gets too hot, mountain specialists like the Black Rosy-Finch, whose entire life-cycle is dependent on cool temperatures and snow-covered mountain tops, will have nowhere else to go.


Of 588 bird species examined in the seven-year study, 314 species are at risk. Of those, 126 species are at risk of severe declines by 2050, and a further 188 species face the same fate by 2080, with numerous extinctions possible if global warming is allowed to erase the havens birds occupy today.


“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the investigation. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds – and the rest of us – depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and us.”


Langham and other Audubon ornithologists analyzed more than 40 years of historical North American climate data and millions of historical bird records from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them. Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future. Audubon's study shows how climate conditions including rainfall, temperature and humidity – the building blocks for ecosystems and species survival – may have catastrophic consequences when tipping those balances. While some species will be able to adapt to shifting climates, many of North America’s most familiar and iconic species will not.

The study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has numerous implications for conservation, public policy and further research and provides a new suite of tools for scientists, conservationists, land managers and policy makers.

In New Mexico many of the species of greatest concern are found in our mountains, grasslands, and riparian zones, and given the current threats to these ecosystems – drought, fire, energy development, overgrazing, etc. – added pressures from an ever-warming climate could be the last straw.

“Although the news may seem dire, all is not lost,” said VanBuskirk. “There is still an opportunity to change the course of this story, but that will require action at a local, state and federal level to reduce the severity of global warming, and that action needs to start today.”

VanBuskirk suggests that protecting birds at a local level can start in our own backyards. As natural habitats for birds continue to decrease, properly managed urban environments, rural and agricultural lands are becoming more and more important to the continued existence of birds, especially Neotropical migrants which may use your backyard as a safe haven during travel between breeding and wintering grounds.

“By using fewer pesticides on your land, pledging to keep your cats indoors, replacing non-native vegetation with native plants from your region, and by offering water, food, and nest boxes, you can help protect billions of birds each year,” explained VanBuskirk. For more ways to help birds at home visit: athome.audubon.org

For more information about links between birds and global warming, including animated maps and photographs of the 314 species, visit Audubon.org/Climate and follow @audubonsociety.

Click here for additional media resources, including an animation introducing the science, video interviews, photos, maps and more.

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Audubon New Mexico: As the state office of the National Audubon Society, Audubon New Mexico’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. 

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