How climate change affects bird populations

Audubon Society Conservation Data Manager Tom Auer will try to rally support to save birds. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)
Audubon Society Conservation Data Manager Tom Auer will try to rally support to save birds. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Birds aren’t political.That’s why the National Audubon Society’s Conservation Data Manager Tom Auer hopes he’ll be able to engage his audience at Mashomack Preserve today in taking steps to protect the feathered population from becoming extinct. 

The Audubon Society and groups like the World Wildlife Fund have gathered evidence that shows that climate change has already affected the bird population. Several months ago, Audubon issued a lengthy report outlining observations made in the field both by volunteers and its own staff scientists.

The conclusion is that 314 of 588 bird species in North America are threatened or endangered by climate changes that affect breeding, feeding and, ultimately, surviving.

If mitigating steps aren’t taken to change habits contributing to climate change, the birds so familiar to people today won’t be here by the end of the century, Mr. Auer said.

What will thrive are insects , especially spiders, on which birds feed, he said.

But he’s not visiting the East End to convince people that global warming and climate change exist. He’ll settle for appealing to them on the basis of their simple love of birds.

A lot of people mark seasons by which birds appear in their yards at various times of year and while some, like Mr. Auer, are dedicated birders, others simply appreciate the beauty and grace of birds and want to continue to live in a world where they thrive.

His first presentation at Peconic Landing Friday was to an audience, some of whom share his views about climate change and others who simply care about birds. He hoped to connect with them emotionally and drive home the idea that there are steps people can take now that will help the birds survive:

• Avoid the use of dangerous pesticides.

• Plant native grasses and flowers.

• Be mindful of the dangers of polluted waters that will kill fish on which some birds feed.

• Create habitats for the birds.

There are many “little things” that can make a difference and steps ordinary people with no scientific knowledge can take that will determine whether generations that follow can enjoy birds as most do today.

When he speaks at a conference at Mashomack Preserve Saturday, he’s expecting his audience to be largely among those who share his vision of climate change and he’ll be somewhat more scientific in his presentation while appealing to the converted to spread the message to others about the steps they can take to protect birds.

This isn’t just tomorrow’s problem, Mr. Auer said. It’s an issue that has already seen nine species disappear since America’s first settlers and too little is being done to change the negative direction in which we’re currently moving, he said.

“The rate of climate change today is faster than has been seen in a long time,” Mr. Auer said.

People can’t just sit home and complain, but need to make their views known to their legislators if anything is going to change, he said.

“We need a groundswell of advocacy” to bring about major changes such as legislation on a national level that would cut carbon emission levels, he said. He’s hoping he can move some of those who hear his words to write to legislators and let them know why  they need to introduce and support legislation that will make lower carbon emission levels standard.

“There’s no silver bullet” that’s going to bring about major change overnight, Mr. Auer said. But if people can just swing support for such legislation a little, it would be a start, he said.

Audubon isn’t just a think tank for policy wonks, but an organization that goes into the field and reaches out to people to report their observations so reports are based on what’s being seen and not theories, he said.

In the next few months, there will be a science-based project launched to “improve our predictions,” Mr. Auer said.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to save all the birds, but I’m optimistic that there are enough people who care about birds to have an impact,” he said.

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