Many state birds may flee their home states as the world warms
WASHINGTON — Each state in America has an official state bird, usually an iconic species that helps define the landscape. Minnesota chose the common loon, whose haunting wails echo across the state’s northern lakes each summer. Georgia picked the brown thrasher, a fiercely territorial bird with a repertoire of more than 1,000 song types.
But as the planet warms and birds across the country relocate to escape the heat, at least eight states could see their state birds largely or entirely disappear from within their borders during the summer, according to a new study.
The research, released Thursday by the National Audubon Society, projects that hundreds of bird species across North America are likely to drastically shift their ranges in the decades ahead in response to rising temperatures and other threats from climate change.
The report raises the prospect that many bird species could struggle to cope as warming forces them into unfamiliar territory or shrinks their existing habitats. And it illustrates how thoroughly the avian world as we know it may be remapped if humans continue pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
If global temperatures rise a plausible 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels this century, Minnesota will no longer enjoy the local climate conditions that loons are accustomed to as they arrive each summer to breed and hunt for food, the study found. As a result, the birds may bypass the state altogether and head farther north.
The same goes for other state birds, including the northern flicker in Alabama — known locally as the yellowhammer — as well as the brown thrasher in Georgia, the purple finch in New Hampshire, the hermit thrush in Vermont and the goldfinch in Iowa and New Jersey. Those birds are projected to lose virtually all of their summer ranges within those states at 3 degrees of global warming.
The California quail, often seen strutting around the state’s suburbs and parks, could lose 87% of its winter range in California.
And the ruffed grouse, the official state game bird in Pennsylvania and one that is popular with hunters, could lose its entire summer and winter ranges in the state, the study found.
“It’s one way we’ll see the effects of climate change right in our own backyards,” said David Yarnold, the president of the National Audubon Society. “If you’ve ever been around a lake in the upper United States, you can probably hear the sound of a loon in your head. It’s hard to imagine a Minnesota summer without them. It’s hard to imagine a New Jersey summer without goldfinches.”
To conduct the study, Audubon’s scientists using data from millions of bird observations to map the current ranges and habitats of 604 bird species across North America.
The scientists then used climate models to estimate the birds’ future ranges under warming of 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees and 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial climate levels. The expectation was that many birds will try to move to keep up with shifts in temperature, rainfall and vegetation.
Many species could face major upheaval.
The report has labeled 389 of the species studied as “vulnerable” to 3 degrees Celsius of warming. That means the birds are projected to lose a significant portion of their current range and may have relatively limited opportunities to move elsewhere. Examples include the lark bunting, Colorado’s state bird, and the wood thrush, a migratory bird that breeds in Eastern forests.