Roger Troy Peterson, creator of the illustrious Peterson Field Guides, said it best: "If [birds] are in trouble, we know we'll soon be in trouble."
Birds are important environmental indicators — canaries in the the coal mine, so to speak. They are among the first organisms to reflect changes in the natural world. Take climate change, for instance.
Climate change is synonymous with global warming. It refers to the gradual increase of the Earth's temperature. And as global weather patterns shift, according to the Audubon Birds and Climate Report, published by the National Audubon Society in 2014 — birds are in trouble.
The Audubon Birds and Climate Report is the first-of-its-kind study that predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of some North American birds. For instance, each species of bird is adapted to its own unique environment. Any change to that environment, i.e. amount of rainfall, length of seasons or average temperatures, will cause the animal to search for new habitat. But when a bird moves someplace unknown, it faces new competition and new predators, which may threaten its survival.
The report uses three decades-worth of data collected from thousands of citizen-scientists during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey. This data helped define a bird's "climatic suitability," or, the ideal environment for each species.
Then, Audubon scientists used a variety of different greenhouse gas emission scenarios to determine how a bird's ideal environment may contract, expand or shift by 2020, 2050 and 2080.
The report studied 588 North American bird species. Of those species, it classified 188 as "climate threatened," species likely to lose more than 50 percent of their preferred range by 2080. It classified an additional 126 as "climate endangered," species likely to lose more than 50 percent of their range by 2050.
In Tennessee, 50 migratory birds are deemed climate threatened or endangered, which includes some of the state's most recognizable watchable wildlife. Here is a look at just a few:
Percentage summer range lost by 2050 / Percentage winter range lost by 2050
Eastern whip-poor-will 99 / 99
Bald eagle 74 / 58
Common loon 56 / 75
Percentage summer range lost by 2080 / Percentage winter range lost by 2080
White-breasted nuthatch 79 / 36
Scarlet tanager 94 / n/a
Sandhill crane n/a / 58
If global warming persists, these species, and many others, may disappear forever. But there are some easy ways you can help: First, by bird-scaping your yard, and second, by reducing your carbon footprint, as scientists believe that the increase of greenhouses, like carbon dioxide, contributes to global warming.
- Convert lawns or gardens to native plants, creating a safe place for birds to rest and nest.
- Install bird baths.
- Limit your use of pesticides, which can be lethal to some songbirds.
- Pay attention to your driving style; avoid unnecessary acceleration, which reduces gas mileage by up to 33 percent.
- Avoid roof-top cargo boxes which increase drag and reduce fuel economy. Instead, opt for a hitch-mounted cargo rack.
- Turn lights off when you leave a room and the thermostat down when you leave the house.
- Limit your beef and dairy consumption. It requires a lot of resources (land, water, etc.) to raise cattle. Not to mention, beef cattle is responsible for 55 percent of all agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2011 report from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.