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New Audubon Science: Two-Thirds of North American Birds at Risk of Extinction Due to Climate Change

Enter your zip code into Audubon’s Birds and Climate Visualizer and it will show you how climate change will impact your birds and community, and ways you can help.

CHICAGO (October 10, 2019) – Today, the National Audubon Society announced a groundbreaking climate report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird 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, (@david_yarnold), CEO and president of Audubon.

“A lot of people paid attention to last month’s report that North America has lost nearly a third of its birds. This new data pivots forward and imagines an even more frightening future,” Yarnold said. “And, you can use a first-of-its kind web tool to find threatened birds in your zip code, as well as a list of things everyone can do.”

Audubon scientists studied 604 North American bird species using 140 million bird records, including observational data from bird lovers and field biologists across the country. Audubon’s zip code-based tool, the Birds and Climate Visualizer, helps users understand the impacts to birds where they live, making climate change even more local, immediate and, for tens of millions of bird fans, deeply personal. 

 “Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too,” said Nathaniel Miller, acting executive director for Audubon Great Lakes. Audubon scientists also studied climate-related impacts on birds across the lower 48 states, including sea level rise, Great Lakes level changes, urbanization, cropland expansion, drought, extreme spring heat, fire weather and heavy rain.

“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate in the Great Lakes region on birds and people. Storms and rapid fluctuations of lake levels impact birds at the same time that they impact people. That is multiplied in coastal and urban areas,” Miller said. “Slowing global warming and investing in green infrastructure – like coastal wetlands – is a win-win solution that can reduce impact for birds and people. This can make all the difference for birds like the Piping Plover, which is already on the brink and has just started to make a recovery.”

The Bobolink, a species that has declined in IL by 10% over the last ten years, has actually shown stability or slight increases in the greater Chicago wilderness where significant investments in habit restoration have been made. In the report, Bobolinks are projected to become extinct in Illinois if climate change is not slowed. We already know what we need to do to protect these birds now and in the future.

“Birds and nature are incredibly resilient, but we have to give them a chance. Natural spaces, like grasslands, forests and wetlands can both store carbon and provide essential bird habitat,” said David O’ Neill, chief conservation officer at National Audubon Society. “Birds that rely on grasslands and forests are in stark decline—but if we work with landowners to invest in grazing and forest management practices, we can sequester carbon, provide lush habitat for birds and support the economic needs of ranchers and forest owners. It’s a win-win-win.” 

"So many of us take birds for granted and yet they are truly fundamental to us. And now, they are at risk in a way that we have never known. This report – and birds – tell us that climate change is a major threat to wildlife and people,” said Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-5). “The good news is that Audubon, and other conservation leaders, have identified the critical steps that we can take to slow climate change and save our birds. It is more important than ever that Congress, and all of us, act now."

Audubon has outlined five key steps:

  1. Reduce your use of energy at home and ask your elected officials to support energy-saving policies that reduce the overall demand for electricity and that save consumers money.
  2. Ask your elected officials to expand consumer-driven clean energy development that grows jobs in your community – like solar or wind power.
  3. Reduce the amount of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere. In order to drive down carbon emissions, we will need innovative economy-wide solutions that address every sector of the economy – like a fee on carbon. Another option is to address carbon emissions one sector at a time like setting a clean energy standard for electricity generation.
  4. Advocate for natural solutions, from increasing wetlands along coasts and rivers that absorb soaking rains to protecting forests and grasslands that are homes to birds and serve as carbon storage banks, and putting native plants everywhere to help birds adapt to climate change.
  5. Ask elected leaders to be climate and conservation champions.

Audubon’s report is based on the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report models for 1.5, 2.0 and 3.0 degrees C of global warming. At the highest warming scenario of 3.0 C, 305 bird species face three or more climate-related impacts.

Last month, Science published a study by a joint team of conservation biologists describing a grim picture: a steady decline of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. Climate change will further exacerbate the challenges birds are already facing from human activity. In 2014, Audubon published its first Birds and Climate Change Report. The study showed that more than half of the bird species in North America could lose at least half of their current ranges by 2080 due to rising temperatures. Audubon’s new findings reflect an expanded and more precise data set, and indicate the dire situation for birds and the places they need will continue.

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About Audubon
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety. Audubon Great Lakes is a regional office of Audubon. Learn more at gl.audubon.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Ned Schaub, ned@nedschaub.com, 312.533.1514

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