Another look at Audubon’s State of the Birds report

If we’re to believe the “State of the Birds” report that the National Audubon Society released last month, Minnesota could lose its iconic state bird, the common loon by the end of this century. Wait, what? According to the report that just came out, the species could lose more than 50 percent of its current breeding range by 2080.

The State of the Birds paints a fairly bleak picture. The seven-year research shows that 314 of 588 species of birds in North America could lose more than 50 percent of their habitat, pushing their breeding ranges north. 

Several scientists, including Gary Langham who is National Audubon’s chief scientist, conducted the study. They looked at standardized observations from Christmas Bird Count and North American Breeding Bird Surveys and pinpointed the climate those species occupy, including temperatures and rainfall. This information was fed into a computer model, which determined the rate of climate change and the habitat shifts that would occur for each species. 

Most bird species have proven to be quite adaptive and thrived despite our continued encroachment. But as storms increase and growing seasons shift, the birds face newer challenges and ever-decreasing habitat. The gut-wrenching part of the study is that so many birds we’ve worked so hard to restore could be at risk of losing all the ground that they gained in the past 50 years.

Many birds suffered losses from the pesticide DDT that interfered with egg production in birds, making the shells so thin, they cracked during incubation and never hatched.

According to this report, by 2050 the bald eagle, the nation’s symbol could lose 70 percent of its current range. Even ducks are in danger. The northern shoveler could lose 57 percent of its breeding range while the flashy wood duck is in danger of losing 69 percent of its current range. And it’s just not just birds we think of in the wild. Even common birds in our backyard will be affected, like the hairy woodpecker, which is at risk of losing 70 percent of its current breeding range.

What can we do? If we know these models are a possibility, we can devise conservation strategies now. We can look at every little thing that we do and make the best possible decisions for these birds. Even small things like changing the glass on new construction like the Vikings Stadium to prevent collisions will help. We can take harder looks at where we place wind turbines and solar farms. We can keep investing in duck stamps whether we hunt or not to acquire key habitat for birds before it’s all taken for oil wells. We can no longer assume that birds will just find another place to go, farther away. Their food resources and places to nest are changing and shifting. If we act now, we can try to keep some of these species around. 

To learn more about what species could affect you in your state, check out the State of the Birds website and the information and the interactive maps. 

To read the full report here.

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