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Blog Birding #419

The news that the US and Canada have lost nearly 3 Billion breeding birds in the last 40 years is certainly affecting. Don Torino of The Meadowlands Birding Blog argues that it should be our rallying cry.

The plummeting numbers of these birds has been slow and sinister like a disease that seems to come out of nowhere and strikes without warning. But in fact that is not the way it happened and we should not be surprised to finally come to grips that we are losing many of our cherished birds. This time it is not an extinction threat of a single species but rather a steep decline in numerous diverse species, in many ways a more challenging task for the scientific community.

Weird weather brought on by climate change is impacting a great many species. Those with small ranges and specific habitat needs, like the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, are especially vulnerable, as reported by Nick Bowlin at High Country News.

In the Gunnison valley, as in the Southwest at large, the winter of 2017-18 was one of the most serious droughts ever recorded. Dry winters, by themselves, are not automatically bad for sage grouse. The problems begin when drought persists into the spring, as it did in 2018. The sagebrush was low and dry. Without water, forbs on the rangeland failed to flower. That meant fewer insects, which young grouse eat exclusively. Chick survival rates were low.

Corey Finger at 10,000 Birds photographs a young Royal Tern with a band on its leg and traces it back to its origin.

So you can imagine how cool it was to realize that the both the youngster and the adult with it were banded and, even better, the young bird had an easy-to-read color marker on its leg. Black letters on a white band on its right leg, reading “PK4.”  I knew that with just that information I could report my sighting online and eventually get a reply. But eventually turned out to be much sooner than expected: I reported the band on Saturday night and had a response on Monday night!

At Phys.org, a troubling study from California researchers finding that desert birds are having trouble dealing with extreme heat that comes as a result of climate change.

The researchers’ latest findings, part of UC Berkeley’s Grinnell Resurvey Project, come from comparing levels of species declines to computer simulations of how “virtual birds” must deal with heat on an average hot day in Death Valley, which can be in the 30s Celsius—90s Fahrenheit—with low humidity. These temperatures are, on average, 2 C (3.6 F) hotter than 100 years ago. The birds that the model predicted would require the most extra water today, compared to a 100 years ago, were the species that had declined the most in the Mojave Desert over the past century. The desert straddles the border between California and Nevada.

The illegal animal trade is bigger than anyone imagined, and as reported at BirdWatching Daily, impacts up to 23% of the world’s bird species.

“Our results suggest that, for birds—but not for mammals, amphibians, or reptiles—traded species are more evolutionarily distinctive than nontraded species,” the authors write. “Humans have long admired birds’ aesthetic attributes, including song and plumage complexity, and perhaps this long-standing admiration is reflected in the bird trade.”

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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