Climate Change Is Pushing Bird Boundaries, Community Scientists Confirm

By The National Audubon Society

In the first peer-reviewed study of its kind, participants in Audubon’s Climate Watch program helped determine the ongoing impact of climate change to bluebirds and nuthatches.

Eastern Bluebird. Photo: Lewis Barnett/Audubon Photography Awards

NEW YORK — Today, the journal Ecological Applications published a final version of a study from National Audubon Society scientists demonstrating that climate change is causing a measurable shift of birds’ ranges during winter and breeding seasons. Years of bird observations gathered by hundreds of volunteer participants in Audubon’s Climate Watch community science program confirm projections made earlier by Audubon that rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will likely result in the colonization of new territories by North American birds.

“Climate change is disrupting hundreds of bird species, and thanks to community scientists all across the country, we can visualize these disruptions in real time and plan conservation efforts accordingly,” said Sarah Saunders, PhD, quantitative ecologist at Audubon and lead author of the study.

The study concludes that climate-vulnerable birds are indeed shifting their distributions at pace with changes in climate suitability due to rising global temperatures. The most outstanding examples take place during the birds’ wintering season, which is not unexpected given the more pronounced changes in temperature attributable to climate change taking place in winter months.

Notably, the study is also the first to use independently gathered volunteer observations to validate climate suitability projections. The authors of the study suggest further assessment of the habitat suitability of the newly colonized territories to determine whether these new areas can sustain the avian newcomers.

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Read the study in Ecological Applications: