Climate Change Causing Bizarre Arctic Bird Deaths

arctic terns flying photo

Image credit: Daníel Örn/Flickr

In the warming Arctic, birds are being plagued by mosquitoes, confused by fog, and driven into the sea by errant winds. These strange challenges—along with avalanches, landslides, and more—have emerged as results of climate change.Mark Mallory, along with two other scientists from the Canadian Wildlife Service, recently completed a survey that used fieldwork data spanning the last 33 years. The pattern that emerged, Mallory explained, was bizarre. He commented:

We saw birds dying of what at best could be called Gary Larson see a bird for apparently no good reason fly into the cliff and die. You've got to be kidding.

Gary Larson Events

thicked billed murres nesting on a cliff face photo

Thick-billed murres nesting on a cliff face. Image credit: cpfair/Flickr

Mallory described the team's findings as "Gary Larson events" in reference to the tragicomic nature of Larson's The Far Side. A segment of bird deaths in the Arctic, he explained, are strange and, in a way, even comical.

Landslides and avalanches, they report, were among the most common. An entire group of thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes were swept into the ocean when the cliff face they had nested on collapsed. Mallory explained:

An entire cliff face fell away, and we estimate 800 birds were killed in this one event.

arctic tern flying through fog photo

An Arctic tern navigates the fog. Image credit: DannoHung/Flickr

Elsewhere, thick fog confused Northern fulmars, causing them to crash into each other and the land. Others were pushed into the ocean by strong Katabatic winds.

The most extreme death, however, was caused by blood loss after a swarm of mosquitoes attacked a thick-billed murre.

Climate Change Creating New Challenges

These strange deaths, the team reports, can be contributed to the new challenges created by a changing Arctic climate. Mallory commented that a:

Curiously a high proportion of the adult birds we see die tend to be dying [due] to factors related to climate and weather.

He added that though mortality rates from these events are likely to increase as the Arctic warms, his team is not predicting that climate change will completely wipe-out seabirds. To survive, however, the birds will have to find solutions to these strange new challenges—which will only become more common in the near future.

Read more about challenges to nature:
6 Ways Humans are Confronting the Challenge of Life
Invasive Weed Threatens to Overrun Nature Reserve
Musings on Nature and Man's Place in It (Slideshow)

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