Birds Are in Trouble, but You Can Help Them

Yellow warblers sing a bright song that's often heard along streams and woodland edges. New Audubon maps show you how this species' current range will shift under increased global temperatures. BrianCollier/Audubon Photography Awards

Two-thirds of birds in North America are at risk due to warming temperatures and human impact on the planet.

Just last month, a study published in the journal Science found that nearly 3 billion birds have disappeared on the continent since 1970. Now, the National Audubon Society has followed up with increasingly sobering news.

Scientists used 140 million records from field biologists and bird watchers to outline where 604 bird species live now. Then then used climate models to forecast how each species' range will likely shift as climate change and other human elements continue to have an impact.

The report found that 64% of species (389 of 604) were moderately or highly vulnerable to climate change. Vulnerability often depended on habitat. For example, 100% of Arctic bird species, 98% of boreal forest birds, 86% of western forest birds and 78% of waterbirds were vulnerable to climate change. The least vulnerable birds included those in marshlands (41%) and urban/suburban areas (38%). However, even in groups that were not as susceptible, more than a quarter were considered climate-vulnerable.

species vulnerability grouped by habitat
Species vulnerability varies depending upon habitat. Stamen Design/National Audubon Society

Researchers detailed the results along with maps and information on the species in the report, "Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink."

"Two-thirds of America's birds are threatened with extinction from climate change, but keeping global temperatures down will help up to 76 percent of them. There's hope in this report, but first, it'll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It's a bird emergency," said David Yarnold, CEO and president of Audubon, in a statement.

The report studied climate-related impacts such as sea level rise and lake level changes, urban land use changes, cropland expansion, drought, extreme spring heat, fire weather and heavy rains.

"Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too," said Brooke Bateman, Ph.D., senior climate scientist for the National Audubon Society.

How you can help

purple finch
The purple finch, which is actually more of a rose color, is a common sight at backyard feeders. Audubon's tool pinpoints the effects of climate on birds in your area and then shows how their range could be effected in different scenarios. Scroll down to the bottom of the link to see what the purple finch's range would look like. Sandy Cutting/Great Backyard Bird Count

Along with the report, Audubon offers a ZIP-code based tool so you can see which impacts from climate change are expected in your area and which bird species will be affected.

"We already know what we need to do to reduce global warming, and we already have a lot of the tools we need to take those steps. Now, what we need are more people committed to making sure those solutions are put into practice," said Renee Stone, vice president of climate for the National Audubon Society. "Our elected officials at every level of government must hear from their constituents that this is a priority. Audubon is committed to protecting the places birds need now and in the future and taking action to address the root causes of climate change."

You can help our flying friends and attract more birds to your yard by providing a water source and adding native trees, bushes and other plants that offer food and protection, as MNN's Tom Oder explains in detail. But Audubon also outlines five bigger-picture ways you can help birds survive through your actions at home and by advocating for the spaces they call home:

  1. Reduce energy use at home and ask elected officials to support energy-saving policies.
  2. Ask elected officials to expand clean energy development – like solar or wind power.
  3. Reduce carbon pollution released into the atmosphere. To lower carbon emissions, they suggest innovative solutions like a fee on carbon and setting a clean energy standard for electricity generation.
  4. Advocate for natural solutions such as protecting forests and grasslands that provide homes to birds and installing native plants to help birds adapt to climate change.
  5. Ask elected leaders to be climate and conservation champions.