First a big thank you to Kim Adelson for coming out to speak to us at our October chapter meeting! She gave us a custom presentation, focusing specifically on the shorebirds we see when we’re out surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, or just enjoying the waterfront. She spoke about the new Audubon report, Survival By Degrees, including the science that went into it, as well as what the report predicts will happen to some of our favorite birds here in Puget Sound at different climate change scenarios (spoiler alert: nothing good). Below is just some of the information she covered.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what the Black Hills Audubon Society does in our area, check out their website, sign up for their newsletter, and go to one of their many events! And if you weren’t able to make it to our meeting but want to absorb some of Kim’s vast bird knowledge, check out the Backyard Birds class she teaches.
And now for some facts!
The Audubon report estimates that 2/3 of our North America birds species are at risk of extinction this century. Climate change is now the leading threat, overtaking habitat loss, which historically has been the biggest threat most species face globally. Here in the PNW, some changes we can expect are warmer temperatures (meaning less snow pack) and increased rainfall in the winter with drier summers. It is estimated that ~30% of Washington state’s habitat will change, affecting birds and people alike in big ways.
Some specific ways that climate change will impact birds:
- Sea level rise will reduce coastline habitat. Most of the sea level rise we’ve seen has been due to thermal expansion (water expands as it rises), but we can expect even more flooding and coastal erosion once the melting of ice caps kicks into high gear. It will be worse here than other areas due to subsidence (sinking) of the tectonic plates we’re sitting on, as well as Puget Sound’s currents and unique geology.
- Reduced food supply and quality. Did you know that plants grown in higher CO2 environments grow faster but are less nutritious? I didn’t either! But in the high CO2 atmosphere we’ve created, plants are becoming more carb-laden and contain less fats and protein. Warming oceans tend to produce forage fish that are less oily and therefore less nutritious. For migrating birds, it’s like trying to run a hundred marathons while eating nothing but candy. We’re already seeing die offs of species due to starvation, including mass die-offs of puffins.
- Loss of migration stopovers. Think of running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Many of these birds, some of which are tiny, migrate thousands of miles, relying on isolated patches of food-rich habitats along their migration corridors to give them the energy they need (flying is a lot of work!). If those places disappear due to flooding, fires, urbanization, etc, then the birds won’t survive the journey.
- Changing phenology. Phenology refers to the seasonal variations in life cycles. Think plants flowering in spring, leaves changing, etc. Plant and animal life cycles are closely intertwined, but with climate change, these patterns are shifting and getting out of sync. This can have dire consequences if you’ve laid your eggs or timed your migration in anticipation of seasonal food availability that’s no longer there. Common Murres, a distinctive seabird in our area, are already breeding a month earlier than they did a decade ago.
Why should we care about birds? Birds play incredibly valuable roles in our ecosystems. Just a few of these roles include:
- Seed dispersion – 80% of our plants in the PNW are dispersed by birds. Healthy birds = healthy forests.
- They eat plant predators – a healthy bird population can decrease insect predation on crops by up to 90%!
- Part of the food chain – birds and their eggs are prey for lots of different species.
- Nutrient cycling – seabirds that forage out in the ocean bring nutrients back inland, much like salmon bring nutrients back to their streams.
- Pollination – while not common in our area, over 7000 species of plants are pollinated by birds globally.
- The economic benefits of birds are big – according to a 2011 US Fish & Wildlife report, “trip-related and equipment-related expenditures associated with birding generated nearly $107 billion in total industry output, 666,000 jobs, and $13 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue.”
What can you do? Kim was full of great advice for different ways we can all work to protect our environment and our birds.
- Vote – get political! Pressure your representatives to act now!
- Change your own behavior – we can all do things to decrease our ecological footprints. Even little things add up to big change!
- Help us clean up beaches! Plastic debris can entangle, strangle, and poison birds.
- Keep your cat indoors! Studies show that declawing your cats or putting bells on their collars does NOT stop them from killing birds. Plus, keeping them indoors is healthier for your cat! They’re less likely to get lost, injured, or pick up ticks and fleas.
- Keep your dogs on leashes when you’re at the beach or in sensitive habitat. Many shorebirds nest right on the ground.
- Don’t leave food on the beach or at campgrounds! While it might look like the birds love it, food waste is much more likely to attract bird predators than it is to benefit birds. Leave No Trace!
- Say NO to balloons – They are an entanglement and ingestion hazard for all kinds of species, from birds to sea turtles to whales. Plus, they cause a lot of power outages.