Too often we miss what’s happening right before our eyes or just beyond our view. I recall how, as a very young lad, I once stepped on a large snapping turtle as I tallied birds in a swamp during my first Christmas Bird Count. I failed to spot the sleeping giant as I was focused instead on the exact number of Black-capped Chickadees overhead. Little did I know that the birds I counted then, multiplied millions of times by others then and in the years since, would provide the data Audubon scientists use to measure the state of our birds, including their responses to climate change.
The rapidly shifting climate is one of those phenomena too often missed by the public—or at least pushed to the back of our collective consciousness—despite the disturbing signs all around us. Though climate change is frequently in the news and seems, finally, to be prompting promising political responses, its impacts are too easily, though incorrectly, dismissed as far away or of limited concern.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The birds and the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) that so thoroughly captured my focus decades ago are revealing the presence and perils of a shifting climate here and now. In 2009 Audubon’s analysis of CBC data documented the dramatic northward movement of many U.S. species, which has been under way for more than 40 years.
In March the 2010 State of the Birds Report, compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and a host of other leading conservation groups, concluded that oceanic, island, Arctic, and many already-at-risk bird species are particularly vulnerable to climate-related perils. The increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions—droughts, storms, sea level rise, and floods—will challenge bird populations already stressed by the losses of habitat, their traditional migratory refueling sites, and their favored foods. More frequent years of reproductive failure, high mortality during migration, or poor winter survival will all take a toll.
A better understanding of the seasonal ebb and flow of birds throughout the hemisphere will be critical to the conservation planning that may yet help these birds—and us, too. One promising project by the Smithsonian, the USGS, and other partners including Audubon, will track and map in real time the daily movements of birds, large and small, using miniature satellite transmitters and data recorders. Project Climb (Climate Change and the Interseasonal Movement of Birds) will bring greater clarity to the ways that birds unite the earth’s ecosystems, offering new insight into how birds’ well-being is linked to our own.
From the exciting new findings from Project Climb to the growing data from the century-old CBC, Audubon will use all the tools at our disposal to turn our knowledge of the impacts of the climate issue into action to address them. With your support and the collective power of hundreds of Audubon Chapters nationwide, we will advance habitat protection that can help birds and other species adapt to the inevitable changes ahead. And we will promote the vital policies needed to reduce climate-altering emissions and, ultimately, the severity of their impacts.
This special issue of Audubon reminds readers of the urgent challenges posed by climate change and of the significant opportunities we have to alter how it affects our world. As you will see, climate change is something that is truly unfolding right before our eyes. We cannot afford to miss or to ignore what’s happening. The future of birds, of wildlife, and of the environment that sustains us all requires us to take notice. And to take action.
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