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Messengers Of Climate Change: Birds Moving Towards Poles, Higher Grounds Due To Warming Habitats

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A new report discovered that birds have started to flock toward the north and south poles of Earth – up on higher ground as they bear the brunt of climate change.

A new report from Birdlife International stated that a quarter of 570 bird species studied around the world has been adversely affected by climate change. A mere 13 percent, according to the study, responded positively.

In the report entitled "The Messengers," co-author Tris Allinson said that while people believe climate change is yet to happen, birds’ actions are a telling sign of the significant changes already taking place.

“[There were] detrimental effects for a large proportion of the birds studied,” said Allinson, adding that they are seeing a consistent movement of birds toward the north and south poles in their hemispheres, and to higher altitudes on mountain slopes.

For instance, Keel-billed toucans as well as other traditional lowland bird species are now situated at up to 1,500-meter elevations in Costa Rica due to climate change. In Europe, “warm-adapted” species are rising in numbers while “cool-adapted” ones are suffering from sharp declines.

Much-adored creatures are crashing in numbers, including the Atlantic puffin and Adelie penguins whose populations were slashed in half in a mere number of generations.

Birds’ behaviors and migratory timing are also changing and having an impact on their interactions with other species, warned Allinson.

For instance, cuckoos that usually time their yearly returns from Africa to utilize local birds’ nests are arriving later than the period for local bird breeding as temperatures increase. Their numbers are also facing decline in different countries.

Population declines and extinction continue to hound many bird communities: one third of European birdlife is already deemed endangered, while a majority of North American birds are estimated to lose more than half of their existing geographic range by the end of the century. East African birds are feared to lose all their appropriate habitats, too.

But it’s not just birds afflicted by man-made climate problems. 

“Ecological communities and interactions between species will be disrupted overall,” said Birdlife, citing an additional 52 million individuals as vulnerable to coastal storm surges by year 2100, and lower crop yields, threatening populations with malnutrition.

There are, however, morsels of hope, such as creating a new mainland colony for African penguins, along with core breeding sites for Eurasian bittern threatened by rising sea levels in the southern United Kingdom coast.

In its full report (PDF), Birdlife highlighted the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change in benefitting humans and biodiversity.

Photo : Deni Williams | Flickr

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