Opinion Columns & Blogs

Let’s give birds a fighting chance on climate change

Maryland could lose the flashy orange-and-black Baltimore oriole – its state bird and the mascot of its Major League Baseball team – before the end of this century because of global warming.

The common loon, Minnesota’s state bird and an iconic species across much of the northern United States, may not be able to raise its young anywhere in the contiguous 48 states by 2080. The bobolink, a charismatic grassland songbird, could be pushed into the boreal forests of Canada, where it would be unlikely to survive. Washington, D.C.’s official bird, the wood thrush, could move out of town.

And the list goes on. The roseate spoonbill, the sandhill crane, the rufous hummingbird and the scarlet tanager are all threatened by global warming.

On Sunday, National Audubon Society scientists released the largest and most comprehensive examination of birds and climate change ever undertaken in North America. The results are alarming: Of the 588 species we studied, 314 will lose 50 percent or more of their current ranges by 2080 unless the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming are significantly reduced. More than half our birds are threatened by global warming, and many will be driven toward extinction if we do not act.

Imagine: Within two generations, nine states could discover that their state birds are at risk. Our national emblem, the bald eagle, brought back from the brink of extinction when we banned the pesticide DDT, faces the prospect of a nearly 75 percent decrease in its current range in the next 65 years. The graceful white trumpeter swan, the friendly backyard brown-headed nuthatch and the coastal black skimmer could lose more than 99 percent of their current ranges. Dozens more species face similarly shocking declines.

So what can we do?

The situation may be grim, but it is not hopeless. To give birds a fighting chance, two actions are critical: protecting the places that we know birds will need today and in the future, and reducing the pace and severity of global warming.

Birds can’t vote. They can’t create a backyard sanctuary. They can’t save the Everglades or Long Island Sound or the Prairie Potholes of the Dakotas. But we can.