Following research released last month that showed nearly 3 billion birds have been lost in the last 50 years, there’s more dire news out Thursday for North American birds.
A new report from the National Audubon Society finds that without rapid, wide-scale efforts to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, nearly two-thirds of North American birds could go extinct, including some of Maine’s most iconic species.
Biologist and author Rachel Carson first warned of a “Silent Spring” in 1962. Back then, her focus was on pesticides. Now, the National Audubon Society is suggesting that silence could become a reality for nearly 400 bird species.
In Maine, the white-throated sparrow’s melody is among those threatened by changes in the climate and loss of habitat. So is the haunting call of the common loon around lakes and ponds and the ethereal song of the hermit thrush famous for ushering in summer evenings in the Maine forest.
In fact, the Audubon report finds that more than 50 percent of Maine’s 230 bird species are vulnerable to climate change across all four seasons.
“We have the possibility of ameliorating the number of species that would be impacted,” says Dr. Jeff Wells, vice president of boreal conservation for the National Audubon Society.
Wells says the key will be preventing the 3 degree Celsius trajectory for global warming by capping greenhouse gas emissions and rapidly transitioning to clean energy.
“Audubon, in its report, looked at what it would look like under a 1.5 degree scenario, which is what the international community is pushing to get by capping emissions in the coming decades,” he says.
If warming could be held to 1.5 degrees Celsius, Wells says, the report predicts that about 75 percent of the North American birds considered climate vulnerable could be removed from the list.
“So, you know, a major change in the number of species that would be impacted,” he says.
In determining what climate changes might put birds at most risk, Audubon used modeling that looked at higher spring and summer temperatures, heavy rains, sea level rise and dry conditions, including increased fire.
Wells says if all of those risks are combined, Maine and the Northeast become a hotspot for overlapping threats for birds under the worst-case warming scenario. On the flip side, under the preferred 1.5 degree future, Maine and the Northeast see many of those risks removed.
Originally published 1:46 p.m. Oct. 10, 2019