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Climate Change Will Threaten Over Half of America's Birds by 2080

​The Audubon Society's new climate report finds that 314 of 588 species of bird will lose at least 50 percent of their habitats over the next 45 years.

This morning, the Audubon Society published a detailed announcement about the effect of climate change on American birds. Sadly, the prognosis is dismal. 

According to Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold, about half of America's birds will be "seriously threatened" by 2080, meaning they will lose at least 50 percent of their range by that date or earlier.

"According to our data, the Common Loon will likely abandon Minnesota," wrote Yarnold. "The Bobolink, a grassland bird, will find itself marooned in the boreal forest zone of Canada."

"Some birds are projected to lose all of the places where the climate is suitable for breeding habitat—and, by inference, go extinct—a fate shared by the Baird's Sparrow and the Chestnut-collared Longspur, the Eastern Whip-poor-will and the Lesser Prairie-Chicken," he added.

If anything, it is a conservative model. Audubon is not in the business of using scary language or going beyond what the science tells us.

Indeed, even the bald eagle, the very epitome of jingoist iconography, is projected to lose about 73 percent of its breeding range by 2080.

All in all, 314 of the 588 bird species the Audubon studied are likely to be either threatened or extinct before the turn of the twenty-second century. These projections are based on a recently released investigation into the effect of climate change on bird behavior and population distribution.

The study was conducted over seven years, and included three decades' worth of citizen science surveys. The Audubon's research team also used the same climate modeling programs employed in agriculture, forestry, and the energy sector to examine the long term effect of temperature, precipitation, and other variables on bird territory.

"If anything, it is a conservative model," wrote Yarnold. "Audubon is not in the business of using scary language or going beyond what the science tells us."

Bird lovers who are particularly concerned about their local favorites can explore the Audubon's new interactive "climate forecast map" for individual species. The map charts out how favorable climate conditions will be for selected bird species in 2020, 2050, and 2080 (compared to populations surveyed in 2000).

Allen's hummingbird, one species listed as threatened by the Audubon report. Image: David Levinson/Flickr

I'm partial to the American Kestrel, for example, and it was a relief to see that though the small falcon is steadily losing ground in the United States, it's expected to recover territory in Canada. But other maps, like that of the Greater Sage-Grouse or the Baird's Sparrow, are a lot bleaker.

The Audubon's research team, led by chief scientist Gary Langham, is currently working on expanding its models into Central and South America, where many migratory birds winter. Projections could also be made more accurate by adding variables like community development—even environmentally friendly projects like replanted forests could fragment and disrupt certain bird species. The more accurate the models are, the easier it will be to predict which regions should be prioritized for preservation.

But ultimately, without meaningful methods for addressing climate change, all this effort will be a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Many birds use flight to evade their ground-based predators, but climate change is one threat they will not be able to fly away from.