Photo Courtesy of: Matthew, Morriston Canada

Photo Courtesy of: Matthew, Morriston Canada



Advocate staff writer

Published: Feb 20, 2009 – Page: 7B UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.


More than half of the 305 most common birds found during the winter months in the United States have been migrating farther north during the past 40 years, according to a recent report from the National Audubon Society.

During a Feb. 10 telephone news conference, Audubon representatives presented an analysis of the past 40 years of Christmas Bird Count information that shows a general trend of birds moving more inland and farther north, said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society.

During that same time, information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a global temperature rise, he said.

Although those two trends aren’t enough to make a cause-and-effect connection between climate change and bird migrations, he said, it’s enough of a correlation to show some impact.

“The impacts of global warming are being felt now, right here in North America,” Flicker said. “The majority of species of birds are moving north in winter right along with the warmer temperatures.”

Too many people think climate change is something that will happen in the future and in a location far away from them, he said.

“This latest research shows it’s happening here and now,” Flicker said.

Greg Butcher, Audubon Bird Conservation director and analysis leader, said they selected 305 of the most common birds spotted during the Christmas Bird Count.

Of those 305 species, 177 of them – 58 percent – were spotted having moved farther north than usual for their wintering grounds, he said.

“More than 60 (species) moved in excess of 100 miles north, while the average distance moved by all studied species – including those that did not reflect the trend – was 35 miles northward,” according to the report “Birds and Climate Change Ecological Disruption in Motion.”

Not all winters are the same; during warmer winters, birds were found farther north while during colder winters, they
were found farther south in general, Butcher said.

In addition, some states have had warmer winters on average than other states, a factor that also makes a difference, he

“We also found birds of almost every type moving north,” Butcher said. There are “thousands of things” that could be out there that could contribute to this movement north, he said. Global warming, however, almost certainly is a major factor in this movement, he said.

A concern is that as birds migrate into areas not traditionally suited to them, that species will be stressed by not finding the right kind of habitat or enough habitat to survive, Audubon representatives said.

“The birds are a very important part of the picture of what’s happening,” said Terry Root, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University.

“We’re going to be losing species.”

Betsy Loyless, Audubon senior vice president of policy, said habitat conservation needs to be re-examined since it appears that many birds are changing where they spend the winter.

There also needs to be a focus on halting the impacts of global climate change, she said.

“As scientists, we must reduce global warming by reducing greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Loyless said.
Amy Wold, the environmental reporter for The Advocate, can be reached at