Securing a future for birds in a changing climate
Allen's Hummingbird is one of 170 bird species in California at risk from climate change. Photo: David Levinson
Global warming is a serious threat to California birds. A seven-year study from the National Audubon Society released in September 2014 finds that global warming threatens the survival of 170 California species in the coming decades. This includes iconic California birds such as the Brown Pelican, Allen’s Hummingbird, Yellow-billed Magpie, and many others. These are birds that all of us know well from our backyards and from our own experiences in California’s beautiful outdoors.
Audubon California is addressing this challenge by protecting the habitats that we know birds will need now and into the future, and doing what we can to lessen the severity of global warming. We’ll do this work with a variety of partners on the ground and in the halls of the State Capitol and Washington, D.C.
But we won’t be able to rise to this challenge without the involvement of California residents who care about birds. We need people not only to join us in this important work, but to also raise their voices to call for meaningful policy and legislative action on global warming.
More about the Audubon study.
Audubon 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. Of 588 bird species examined in the study, 314 species are considered at-risk. Hundreds of species not previously considered at risk will be challenged to survive in a climate-changed future. Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future. Learn more about the study.
Of the 314 North American birds identified by Audubon as either climate threatened or climate endangered, more than 170 commonly occur in California.
From the melodies of songbirds to the drumming of woodpeckers, birds have long been associated with the sound of spring. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that climate change is driving changes in the calendar period we currently call spring—and that these changes are harming herbivorous and mostly-herbivorous birds.
Specifically, the research observed how different “springtime events” associated with the reproduction of various species has changed with climate in the United Kingdom. The study found that temperature, rather than precipitation, had the largest influence on the timing of breeding in birds and flowering in plants. Although these dates shifted for most animals, the most harmful consequences were found in primary consumers. Primary consumers are essentially the middle of the food chain, or animals that eat plants but are prey to other animals.
While primary consumers include insects, it also means seed-eating birds such as Larks, Cardinals, Finches and Sparrows. In California, environmental toxins and hunting have often threatened our higher-in-the-food-chain predators such as the California Condor and Brown Pelican. Unfortunately, climate change is beginning to threaten the smaller birds too—the ones we may sometimes take for granted as an inherent part of our springtime surroundings.
Madrone Audubon Society are involved with a phenology program designed by Sandy DeSimone of Starr Ranch Sanctuary. Their local paper, The Petaluma Argus Courier, recently intervied chapter members about the volunteer program.
Beginning last month, a group of 10 volunteers armed with clipboards, binoculars and data sheets began to observe the changes and behaviors of a handful of plants and birds as well as an animal at Paula Lane Open Space Preserve, logging their findings into the USA National Phenology Network “Nature’s Notebook” database, which gives scientists access to aggregated data from participants around the nation to inform their research.
A team of about five volunteers is also undergoing monthly observations of the migratory cliff swallow population that makes its home each year at the Petaluma River Bridge from March until August, according to Susan Kirks, a Petaluma resident who’s spearheading the local efforts sponsored by the Santa Rosa-based Madrone Audubon Society...
As part of the project that kicked off the week of May 16, trained volunteers spend about an hour and a half at the preserve once a month to record observations on nine bird species — including several that have been identified by the National Audubon Society as being threatened by climate change — as well as four native and non-native plant species, while also tracking the behavior of the mule deer that populate the land, Kirks said.
Read the rest of the article here.
The California State Senate last week approved importat climate change legislation that addresses the role that farms and other working lands play in reaching the state's goals for reducing carbon emissions. In particular, Senate Bill 1386 will make it state policy that protecting and managing natural and working lands is key to meeting California’s climate change goals, and directs all relevant state agencies to consider this policy when conducting their work.
Despite significant improvements as a result of emissions regulations, air pollution continues to be a significant problem for Californians, according to data recently released by the American Lung Association. The organization’s 2016 State of the Air report concludes that seven of the ten worst cities in the United States for air pollution are located in California. Los Angeles leads the nation for ozone pollution, while Bakersfield is the worst in the nation for particulate pollution. The report adds that eight out of ten Californians live in an area with unhealthful air.
While the ramifications of this are clear for public health, air pollution of this type has clear ramifications for climate change. It’s no wonder that a number of the climate-related bills working their way through the State Legislature this year address the connection between climate change, pollution, and public health. The best example is Senate Bill 1383, authored by State Senator Ricardo Lara, which seeks to reduce 50 percent of black carbon emissions and 40 percent of both methane and fluorinated gas (F-gas) emissions in California by 2030.
The National Audubon Society recently found that 170 species of birds in California will be at risk in coming decades due to climate change. These birds are also threatened by air pollution.
Audubon Magazine has a great profile of Rosalie Howarth, a member of Mount Diablo Audubon, who has been active advocating for legislation addressing the impact of climate change on birds. Howarth is also a popular radio DJ in the Bay Area for KFOG-FM. It's a great piece about the power of persistence -- and Howarth also shares her tips for making the types of connections with lawmakers that make a difference.
After debuting his legislation at the Paris Climate Talks last year, California State Sen. Ricardo Lara last week introduced a new bill that would greatly reduce short-term air pollutants such as black carbon, fluorinated gases, and methane by 2030. Senate Bill 1383 would require the State Air Resourced Board to to "approve and implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants to achieve a reduction in methane by 40%, hydrofluorocarbon gases by 40%, and anthropogenic black carbon by 50% below 2013 levels by 2030."
Audubon California is watching this bill closely because we understand that these pollutants are driving climate change while also creating immediate public health challenges for communities. Audubon research shows that 170 California bird species are threatened by climate change. Moreover, this same air pollution that creates public health problems in people also creates immediate health issues for birds and habitat.
Audubon California News comes to your email inbox every month with updates on our activities throughout the state, as well as other important conservation news.