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According to a study conducted by scientists from multiple universities and institutions, global bird populations are steadily declining around the world. The main threats to bird populations include the degradation of forests, exploitation of species, loss of natural habitats, and more. According to the study titled- ‘State of the World’s Birds‘, human-induced climate change is one of the top drivers of bird population decline. The study was published in the journal-Annual Review of Environment and Resources.
Lead author and senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, Alexander Lees, states that the world is witnessing the first signs of a new wave of extinctions of bird species globally. The researchers of the study examined changes in bird biodiversity using data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List’ to uncover population changes among the world’s 11,000 bird species.
Canada and the United States witnessed the loss of around 3 billion bird populations during the past 50 years. A similar pattern or trend can currently be seen across the globe. Despite the findings, researchers suggest that there is still hope for species preservation and conservation efforts. However, massive change is needed. The fate of bird populations depends on the actions and measures we take today.
As mentioned previously, climate change affects bird species, population dynamics, ranges, and behaviors. Several bird species are currently experiencing adverse effects; in the coming years, climate change will put large numbers of bird populations at risk of extinction.
According to a large-scale study, climate change is causing birds to lay eggs earlier than expected. Bird species are now laying eggs up to at an average rate of 6.6 days earlier per decade. Nestling activities of the Tree Swallows in North America occurred about nine days earlier than 30 years ago.
The migration period of birds is shifting; they migrate earlier than expected, mainly during the spring. A study in Canada of around 63 years of information for 96 species of birds indicated that 27 species had changed their arrival periods, mostly arriving earlier, because of rising spring temperatures.
Migratory bird populations are beginning to delay their autumn departure. A study among 13 North American passerines shows that six bird species have delayed their departure dates due to global warming. Few bird species are unable to migrate altogether.
The behavior of birds and their environment are conflicting. Bird behavior and life cycle depend upon the environment and its changing seasons. Their behavior and environment start to get mismatched as birds cannot shift their behaviors, like nesting seasons, with the changes in the environment, like when prey is available.
Bird populations will likely move towards higher elevations or the poles as temperatures rise. Thus, drastic changes within their distributions are occurring. A study conducted on 35 species of North American warblers showed that the distribution of 7 species had shifted northwards during the last 24 years.
Bird populations with restricted ranges, small populations, poor ability to shift their distribution, or those currently facing climate change effects are the most at risk of extinction. As migratory birds depend upon multiple ecosystems and habitats, they become extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Arctic bird populations are also at risk as warming is occurring rapidly in those regions.
Globally, bird diversity is the highest in the tropics, and it is precisely in those regions that we find the highest number of endangered species. According to the study, an estimated 48 percent of bird species globally undergo or are expected to undergo severe population decline. Bird populations are only stable for approximately 39 percent of species. The status of 7 percent of bird species is unknown, while only 6 percent of bird species witnessed an increase in population.
Globally over 1,300 bird species are at risk of extinction. Around North America, threatened populations of grassland birds include the sweet-trilling meadowlarks and more. Swifts and swallows are witnessing widespread population decline in North America and Europe. North Atlantic seabirds such as the murres and puffins gradually decline in population along with the red knots in the Western Hemisphere.
The migratory birds like storks, sandpipers, pelicans, and spoonbills that depend on the intertidal flats of Asia’s Yellow river also face population decline. The populations of vultures, raptors, and eagles are significantly weakening as the years go by. Parrots residing in South America and Australia struggle to survive in those areas, while the iconic penguins of Antarctica face issues such as starvation.
The above are just a few bird species facing the effects of climate change. Besides them, there are several other bird species going through a population decline.
There are numerous ways to reduce bird species’ extinction risk and population decline.