While climate change and global warming are an ongoing cause for concern, monitoring the environment is a costly and time consuming activity for conservationists to carry out without help from local experts – of the feathered variety. Birds are tremendously valuable in assisting conservationists and researchers to pick up changes in the environment and species diversity, enabling them to take action where possible to prevent a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe.
Science has come a long way since canaries were used to detect toxic gases in coalmines, but birds continue to be the most effective sentinel species on the planet. The reasons for this are many and include the fact that birds are found all over the world, in all types of habitats, both in the wild and in urban settings. They are sensitive and adaptive to environmental changes and are relatively easy to monitor as they are highly visible. Birds are among the most researched animals on the planet and with bird watching being a popular activity around the world, birders are often keen to participate as citizen scientists in research projects and organized bird counts. Birding clubs and Audubon societies all over the world get involved in the gathering of data, which can then be coordinated by scientists. Moreover, there exists a wealth of historical data on the activities of birds, providing a baseline against which to compare current data. As birds include species that feed on a wide variety of food sources, they are vulnerable to the accumulation of toxins in both plants and animals they eat, thereby providing an indicator on soil, air and water pollution levels.
As birds are acutely in tune with seasonal cycles, even subtle changes in behavior, feeding and breeding patterns can alert scientists to broader environmental changes. Changes in arrival and departure times of migratory bird species have been linked to changes in temperature, ocean currents and wind patterns. Feeding and breeding patterns of marine predators and seabirds offer scientists the opportunity to monitor the health of the world’s oceans and seas and with many species the timing and success of breeding is dependent on food availability.
When birds seemingly inexplicably fall out of the sky, as was reported in Arkansas and New Jersey earlier this year, scientists will try to solve the mystery, because when birds are in distress, it is very likely an indicator that something is very wrong in the environment.
Each year thousands of citizens in the US get involved with the annual Christmas bird count. They are not professional birders, but their counts do help biologists and other researchers to get a better idea of the grand scale of things. Over time this count has revealed that almost 60 percent of migratory birds are spending their winters further north than they did forty years ago.
According to studies, the American Robin and White-throated Sparrow are just two of the 305 bird species examined which showed a dramatic northward shift in their annual migratory patterns. While this does not prove global warming in itself, it is consistent with the sort of behavior you’d expect to take place in direct reaction to a steadily warming climate. The concern is not so much for the birds themselves, but for other non-migratory bird species and animals that are left behind to suffer through the heat. Kenn Kaufman, field editor for Audubon Magazine, stressed the interdependence of everything in an ecosystem when he said about the trend: “Everything is connected. Birds are not isolated; it’s an ecosystem. It’s a system and something that happens in one area is going to affect everything else.”
While bird ranges can change for a number of different reasons, such as urban sprawl, supplemented diets and deforestation, researchers have noted that the most likely explanation for why so many different migratory birds over such a broad area are choosing to winter further north is most likely global warming. The shift is not just affecting one or two species from one or two areas – its affecting a large number of species from a large number of areas. The phenomenon is simply too widespread to be attributed entirely to only one localized cause.
So where does the report released by the National Audubon Society leave bird lovers? It refreshes in our minds the need to not contribute to the many factors causing global warming. Not only can we change our own lifestyles and encourage others to do likewise, but if we live in an area where there are non-migratory birds, we can try to be aware of their needs, providing them with food, water and shelter so that they can survive the conditions as best as possible.
Terms such as global warming, carbon footprint and climate change are becoming part of every day vocabulary as people become more aware of the far reaching consequences of mankind’s abuse of the planet. Researchers at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Durham University and Cambridge University have been monitoring the effect of climate change on bird populations in the United Kingdom and have reached some disturbing conclusions.
Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, will serve as the host venue for the 2008 Montana Bird Festival to be held 6 to 8 June. Montana Audubon will be joining up with Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society to invite birding enthusiasts to enjoy three days of seminars, workshops, field trips and much more.
According to recent research and data, as many as 20-30% of all animal species will be at an increased risk of extinction if temperatures continue to rise. Experts estimate that an increase of more than 2.5 Â°C in average temperatures across the globe could have a deadly impact on existing animal species as it will make survival more difficult. This is especially the case for many birds.