Climate-Threatened Birds

What Does the GBBC Have to Do With Climate Change?

You don’t have to be a bird expert to help our feathered friends fight climate change. Here’s why.

It’s tough being a novice birder, especially when you work at Audubon. At a recent Delta Wind Birds/Strawberry Plains Audubon Center winter sparrow workshop, I was floored when attendees could tell a Song Sparrow from a Savannah Sparrow … mid-flight!

Me, I count it as a “win” to spot them in my field of vision.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be an expert to make a difference. Case in point: I’m a climate change gal, not a bird nerd. Before joining Audubon, my birding experience was limited to counting hummingbirds at my grandfather’s feeder and donning Cardinals sports paraphernalia. My professional life revolved around helping people understand global warming, from the extreme weather to the possible public health implications.  

So what does climate change have to do with birds? A lot—Audubon science shows climate change is the biggest threat to North American birds. (I came to Audubon last summer to help launch our climate initiative, the organization’s response to the news.) No group is better placed than Audubon to take action on climate change, and no network is better prepared to help.

Friday marks the beginning of the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a global citizen science effort that helps collect important data on bird behavior. This event, along with the Christmas Bird Count and community-based citizen science everywhere, offers everyone an opportunity to help the birds with whom they share a home and community.  

With the pace and scale of the threat so startling (314 birds are seriously threatened and could, without action, go extinct thanks to climate change), it’s hard to believe that individual actions lead up to change.

Yet citizen science, including the GBBC, is the foundation on which we build our conservation strategies to protect birds in a warming world. Without this kind of citizen science data, we wouldn’t know that birds as widespread as the Common Loon or the Baird’s Sparrow are already moving their ranges in response to climate change. We wouldn’t know that the differences in bird communities you see at your backyard feeders are likely the result of global warming.

Because it doesn’t matter whether you can tell a Field Sparrow from a Fox Sparrow (though I’m getting better!), you can still help out. As key indicators for how warmer temperatures are changing our world, birds are critical messengers. Counting them this weekend helps spread that message. Hopefully, we’ll hear it in time to help. 

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