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New England’s Feathered Friends Face Threat From Global Warming


Tuesday, June 25, 2013   

BOSTON - A new study called Shifting Skies says climate change is affecting migratory birds that live in or pass through Massachusetts and New England. The report by the National Wildlife Federation says that of 305 species tracked, 177 have shifted their winter habitats northward by 35 miles on average over the past four decades. This can throw off their feeding patterns and lead to population decline or extinction, according to Dr. Hector Galbraith, staff scientist at the NWF.

"No longer can you drive to the top of Mount Greylock in Western Massachusetts and hope to see a Bicknell's thrush or blackpoll warbler," he declared. "They're gone."

Rising sea levels and extreme storms also threaten marshlands and coastal wetlands that are home to birds such as saltmarsh sparrows and piping plovers.

Dr. Jeff Wells, senior scientist at the Boreal Bird Initiative, said a two-week difference in arrival time at a bird species' New England habitat - promoted by warming climate - can make a crucial difference.

"When birds are arriving back, they're trying to time their arrival so that when they hatch their young they'll be right at the peak of insect abundance in order to make sure their young have food," he said. "And they're arriving a little bit too late."

According to Dr. Pam Hunt, senior scientist at New Hampshire Audubon, rising sea levels threaten New England's seabirds.

"And as sea level rises, those beaches where the species nest are going to be reduced and, in the more intense storms, they will potentially get fully washed out to sea or the islands where they nest will be over-washed, and that could either kill the birds directly or destroy the habitat," she warned.

Carol Oldham, Northeast regional coordinator for the Federation, said political leaders need to be pressed on a rapid response to climate change, and that New England's senators could lead the way if they wanted to.

"We have two independent senators in our region in Senator King and Senator Sanders, as well as some of the more climate- clean air- and conservation-minded Republican voices in Senators Collins and Ayotte."

The report recommends a halt to investing in "dirty" energy including tar-sands pipelines; curbing carbon pollution; and moving to clean-energy alternatives.

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