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All American oceanic birds threatened by climate change, research finds

All 67 oceanic bird species in the United States are imperiled by the changing climate, the authors of a comprehensive assessment said today. NGS illustration by Allan Brooks Many land-based birds are also at risk as habitat and food sources change. The findings are published in the State of the Birds 2010 report, a collaborative...

All 67 oceanic bird species in the United States are imperiled by the changing climate, the authors of a comprehensive assessment said today.


NGS illustration by Allan Brooks

Many land-based birds are also at risk as habitat and food sources change.

The findings are published in the State of the Birds 2010 report, a collaborative effort as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, involving federal and state wildlife agencies, and scientific and conservation organizations.

Partners include American Bird Conservancy, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey.

State of the Birds 2010 is the first comprehensive vulnerability assessment of bird species to climate change across the United States. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the report’s release at a press conference in Texas today, along with several environmental organizations that had collaborated on the publication.


NGS illustration by Allan Brooks

“As climate change impacts are increasingly felt throughout the United States and beyond, conservation efforts affecting birds will take on a doubly important role in protecting not only birds that are already threatened, but also more common birds as well,” said David Pashley, vice president of American Bird Conservancy, in a news release about the report. Pashley was one of the authors of the report.

“Our findings tell us that birds of conservation concern today will be in even greater peril in the future as a result of climate change, and many bird species that are now doing well may soon become conservation priorities as global warming progresses,” Pashley said.

“Conservation efforts that will take on special importance include: reduction of carbon emissions; conservation of bird habitat; protection of bird prey bases and food supplies; and removal of threats, including invasive plant and animal species.”


NGS illustration by Allan Brooks

The birds that will be the hardest hit by climate change will be ocean and island birds, whose habitat and food base are most tied to both a climate-dependent ocean biology and sea level, Pashley said. Hawaiian birds in particular, are already in deep trouble and may be looking at even more difficult circumstances, he said.

All 67 oceanic bird species are considered vulnerable due to low reproductive rates, use of islands for nesting, and reliance on rapidly changing oceans, American Bird Conservancy said in its statement.

“Ninety-three percent of Hawaiian birds and 62 percent of all U.S. Pacific Island birds have a medium to high vulnerability to climate change.

“Hawaiian forest birds are also threatened by the spread of avian malaria; warming will increase the rate of transmission and reduce the size of the birds’ current malaria-free safe area.”


NGS illustration by Walter A. Weber

For land-based birds, the key will be in establishing, implementing, or enforcing land management policies that recognize the increasing threat that birds are facing, Pashley said.

How lands are managed can help both mitigate global warming, and help birds adapt to changing climate and habitat conditions, American Bird Conservancy added.

“For example, conserving carbon-rich forests and wetlands, and creating incentives to avoid deforestation can keep already stored carbon from dissipating into the atmosphere, while also providing invaluable wildlife habitat. Market-based mechanisms that provide resources to conserve biodiversity and to store carbon should also be encouraged.”

The report identified common bird species such as the American oystercatcher, common nighthawk, and northern pintail that are likely to become species of conservation concern as a result of climate change.

Pashley also said that in order to address the challenges identified in State of the Birds 2010, the joint venture partnerships will need to be further strengthened to identify new or changing bird conservation needs and to carry out projects to help species adapt.

Joint Ventures (JVs) are regional, collaborative partnerships involving federal, state, and local government agencies, corporations, tribes, individuals, and a wide range of non-governmental organizations working to advance conservation efforts and help identify local land-use priorities.

“JVs provide coordination for conservation planning and implementation that benefit birds and other species. JVs also develop science-based goals and strategies, and a non-regulatory approach for achieving conservation,” Pashley said.

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