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Report: Birds Can't Fly Faster than Climate Change

PHOTO: A new report says migratory birds are having a tough time adjusting to a changing climate. Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
PHOTO: A new report says migratory birds are having a tough time adjusting to a changing climate. Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
July 8, 2013

YANKTON, S.D. - Birds are feeling the negative effects of a warming climate, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation, and they're having trouble adapting. In South Dakota, that means the red-winged blackbirds in the wetlands, sage grouse in the western grasslands, and world-class duck-hunting in the pothole region in the northeast are all are being affected.

According to NWF senior scientist Dr. Doug Inkley, people may assume that especially the migratory bird species have an advantage because they can fly to different places.

"The opposite is true: they're actually more vulnerable than most of the species that are more residential in nature," he said. "Migratory birds face the unique challenge of climate change potentially affecting any of the multiple habitats that they require to breed, to migrate and to overwinter."

Inkley said one problem with changing flight patterns and timing is that the birds show up at the wrong times for their natural food sources in those areas that they use. The "Shifting Skies" report cites climate change as the biggest threat to birds in this century.

Black Hills forests are seeing pine beetle infestations the report says are climate-related. Nic Callero, regional outreach coordinator with NWF, said that starts a chain reaction, already in progress this summer in many parts of the country, that ends up affecting birds.

"What we're seeing right now is a huge increase in large-scale forest fires from that specific climate impact," Callero said. "And when these fires burn out of control, they burn hotter and they burn larger, we see a huge impact on wildlife and also on many of the migratory bird species."

The report makes some recommendations for curbing climate change, including more aggressive enforcement of the Clean Air Act, doing more to encourage clean energy development, and minimizing coal as a power source.

See the report at bit.ly/1bWbJCU.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD