Climate Change

Delaware's Bird Species Threatened by Global Warming, New Audubon Study Reveals

Iconic birds could disappear without action

Global warming threatens the survival of nearly half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada, including many of Delaware's birds, National Audubon Society scientists warn in a ground breaking new study released today.

Nearly 200 Delaware species are at risk, including the Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Seaside Sparrow, and Wood Thrush.

"Threats to species like the Red Knot, Dunlin, and Seaside Sparrow confirm what many local scientists have been finding. We first began to question the impacts of global warming on species such as the Red Knot in 1997, while working with the international shorebird research team that documented problems with the migration arrival timing," said David Carter, conservation chair for Delaware Audubon.

"But I don't think anyone expected this serious of a problem affecting so many of our birds," he added. "This is a serious warning alarm about the need to take action now. It changes everything about how we approach conservation efforts in the face of a warming planet."

Of 588 bird species examined in the seven-year study, 314 species are at risk. Of those, 126 species are at risk of severe declines by 2050, and another 188 species face the same fate by 2080. Numerous extinctions are possible if global warming continues on its current trajectory.

The National Audubon report says that hundreds of species not previously considered at risk will be challenged to survive in a climate-changed future.

"In Delaware, we know this adds critical information about how we address climate change," added Mr. Carter. This will affect open-space protection, management of conservation lands, restoration of lost habitat, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Habitat may be lost because of shifting bird ranges, rising seas, and over-development, according to Mr. Carter.

"The study adds new urgency to protect the places birds live, prepare for the future, and do everything we can to reduce the severity of global warming," said Mr. Carter.

"The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming," said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the investigation. "That's our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds - and the rest of us - depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and us."

Langham and other Audubon ornithologists 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. Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive, or not survive, in the future.

Audubon's study shows how climate conditions including rainfall, temperature and changing seasons - the building blocks for ecosystems and species survival - may have catastrophic consequences when tipping those balances. While some species will be able to adapt to shifting climates, many of North America's most familiar and iconic species will not.

"The prospect of such staggering loss is horrific, but we can build a bridge to the future for America's birds," said National Audubon President David Yarnold. "We know that if we help avoid the worst impacts of climate change for birds, we're doing the same for our kids. And this new report can be a road map to help birds weather the storm of global warming."

Audubon today launched a new web portal,, dedicated to understanding the links between birds and global warming, including animated maps and photographs of the 314 species at risk, a technical report, and in-depth stories from the September-October issue of Audubon magazine, which is also devoted to the topic.

Mark Martell, president of Delaware Audubon, said: "What happens to birds is a harbinger of things to come for all of us. If birds are in trouble, then so are we. This is why we all need to take action now - whether we simply make our yards more bird-friendly or fight a power plant that would drastically increase greenhouse gas emissions. There is something each and every one of us can do. Delaware Audubon will work to let people know how they can help."

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