A wake-up call from nature

Study finds that species nearing extinction due to humans

Wintering birds are beginning to arrive.

Loons that nested in back country lakes gather off the ferry terminal. Ducks fly into Boundary Bay, and shorebirds skitter along the waters’ edge.

The Fraser delta provides ideal habitat for many different species of birds, whether they are stopping for the winter or moving through to warmer locations down south.

The importance of these habitats is revealed by Audubon’s new Birds and Climate Change report.

As the climate warms, North America’s interior wetlands are shrinking. Canada’s iconic Common Loon risks losing its prairie nesting areas. Bald eagles and trumpeter swans, recently recovered from severe population declines, are now threatened by wetland habitat loss from changing climate.

Audubon calculates that the bald eagle will lose 74 per cent of its breeding range by 2080; the trumpeter swan is projected to lose 100 per cent. Wintering areas will also be affected, and a warming climate will drive birds northward.

Canadian habitats are becoming more and more critical for bird survival.

Some southern birds are already here. The Anna’s Hummingbird, a Californian species, was rare in Delta until the 1990s. Today, it is common throughout the Lower Mainland, surviving thanks to milder winters and the availability of flowers, insects, and hummingbird feeders.

Caspian terns have also expanded their range northwards since the 1950s. These gull-like birds, with bright red bills, are now a common summer sight over Boundary Bay.

These species were adaptable, but not all birds will cope so well with changing climate.

The horned grebe is a small water bird that can sometimes be seen in winter diving for bait fish near the ferry causeway. It nests on lakes in the Great Plains and boreal forest of western Canada and Alaska, but it is in grave danger.

Audubon’s analysis predicts that it will lose 100 per cent of its summer range by 2080, ultimately dooming it to extinction.

The Audubon study took seven years to complete. It defines the climate conditions hundreds of bird species need to survive and maps where these conditions will exist in 2020, 2050 and 2080, compared with the baseline of 2000, if climate change continues at its current rate.

Of 588 species studied, more than half are in trouble, with 314 species losing more than 50 per cent of their current climatic range by 2080.

This important study should be a wake-up call for everyone on the effects of climate change on our planet’s wildlife.

Anne Murray, the author of two nature books available in local book stores, writes monthly in the Peace Arch News – www.natureguidesbc.com