Miami-Dade County

Florida critical to birds at risk from climate change

Climate change will likely threaten the survival of half of North America’s birds in the coming decades and no place will play a more crucial role in saving them than Florida, the National Audubon Society said Monday after releasing a seven-year study.

Rising temperatures and changes in rainfall could shrink ranges for about 21 percent of the continent’s birds by as much as half by 2050, the report found. Of the 588 species examined, Audubon scientists found 314 risked sharp declines in population.

That puts Florida, the continent’s great way station for many migrating birds, in a unique position, said Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon Florida.

“It’s not enough to protect the places where they breed and winter. These stopover sites they depend on to get there, they’re like a string of pearls,” she said.

For the study, Audubon scientists looked at 40 years of climate data, mountains of information collected by the society’s annual Christmas bird count and a federal breeding survey. They examined links between where birds live and climate changes to determine how nesting and breeding are affected to help them determine which birds could likely to adapt to changes and those that would not.

For example, the nomadic Baird’s Sparrow is likely to lose all of its grassland breeding grounds by 2080, the report found.

But other birds, including the fish-hunting osprey, familiar along Florida’s coasts and canals, could adapt. The bird, expected to lose 36 percent of its breeding ground, is increasingly becoming a year-round Florida resident.

Because Florida gets a combination of birds nesting, breeding and migrating, saving conservation land is important not just to native birds, but the hemisphere’s birds, Wraithmill said.

“There is not a single time of year when we’re not incredibly critical to the world’s bird population,” she said.