Climate Change Pushing Bird Species to Oblivion

NAIROBI, Kenya, November 14, 2006 (ENS) - Birds are suffering the escalating effects of climate change in every part of the planet, finds a new report released today by the global conservation group WWF at the United Nations climate change conference in Nairobi. The report reveals a trend towards a major bird extinction due to global warming.

The researchers found declines of up to 90 percent in some bird populations, as well as total and unprecedented reproductive failure in others.

They estimate that bird extinction rates could be as high as 38 percent in Europe, and 72 percent in northeastern Australia, if global warming exceeds two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels - currently it is 0.8ºC above those levels.

"Robust scientific evidence shows that climate change is now affecting birds’ behavior," said Dr. Karl Mallon, scientific director at Climate Risk Pty. Ltd of Sydney, Australia, authors of the report.


The tawny eagle is an arid savanna raptor of Asia and Africa. Small changes in rainfall predicted with climate change may result in the bird’s extinction in its African habitat in the southern Kalahari. (Photo by Roger Hooper courtesy WWF-Canon)
"We are seeing migratory birds failing to migrate, and climate change pushing increasing numbers of birds out of synchrony with key elements of their ecosystems," Mallon said.

The report, "Bird Species and Climate Change: The Global Status Report," reviews more than 200 scientific articles on birds in every continent to build up a global picture of climate change impacts.

"Birds have long been used as indicators of environmental change, and with this report we see they are the quintessential 'canaries in the coal mine' when it comes to climate change," said Hans Verolme, director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Program.

The report identifies groups of birds at high risk from climate change - migratory, mountain, island, and wetland birds, Arctic and Antarctic birds, and seabirds.


Whiskered auklet at Buldir Island, Alaska. Their breeding range is restricted to the Aleutian Islands, a few of the Kurile Islands and a few islands in the Sea of Okhotsk. (Photo by Ian L. Jones courtesy USGS)
"This report finds certain bird groups, such as seabirds and migratory birds, to be early, very sensitive, responders to current levels of climate change," said Verolme. "Large-scale bird extinctions may occur sooner than we thought."

Based on this report, WWF concludes that the current approach to bird conservation, focused on protecting specific areas with a high bird diversity, will fail because climate change will force birds to shift into unprotected zones.

A major change in approach to bird conservation is required, says WWF.

Bird species that can relocate to new habitat are expected to survive global warming, but species that do well only in a narrow environmental range are expected to decline, and to be outnumbered by invasive species.

The vulnerability of seabirds to climate change is illustrated by the unprecedented breeding crash of UK North Sea seabirds in 2004, WWF explains.

The direct cause for the breeding failure of common guillemots, Arctic skuas, great skuas, kittiwakes, Arctic terns and other seabirds at Shetland and Orkney colonies was a shortage of their prey, a small fish called sandeels.

Warming ocean waters and major shifts in species that underpin the ocean food web are belived to be behind the major sandeel decline.


Great skuas on the Shetland Islands have been struggling with climate change. (Photo courtesy BirdNet Germany
As a result, the nearly 7,000 pairs of great skuas in the Shetlands produced only a few chicks and WWF reports that starving adult birds ate their own young.

If high rates of bird extinction are to be avoided, "rapid and significant" greenhouse gas emission cuts must be made, WWF says.

Gareth Johnston, Climate Risk’s director of corporate risk, points to negative socioeconomic impacts of bird declines on rural sectors.

"The ecosystem services provided by birds support much of the rural sector’s economy. Obvious sectors like eco-tourism, conservation and sporting estates will be hardest hit by species decline and extinction," Johnston said.

"Recent UK research suggests that up to 40,000 jobs are directly dependent on shooting and game sport activities," he said. "Loss of upland and lowland species will devastate fragile estates that may also play a considerable environmental conservation role in addition to sustaining otherwise marginal communities."

The climate change risks of marginal communities and developing countries are at the core of the climate talks in Nairobi that began November 6 and continue through Friday.

The two week conference is the 12th Conference of the 189 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the second meeting of the 166 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.


Delegates to the UN annual climate conference listen to speakers at UN Headquarters in Nairobi. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Delegates are negotiating funding for adaptation to climate warming by people in developing countries who are already experiencing drought, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

Negotiators are working towards helping developing nations build capacity to deal with the warming planet, deforestation, technology transfer, education and public awareness.

They are developing the flexible mechanisms allowed under the Kyoto Protocol that enable clean energy and reforestation projects to be conducted by regulated countries for credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, President Moritz Leuenberger of the Swiss Confederation, and outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will address the opening of the High Level Segment of the Conference on Wednesday.

Download the full report, "Bird Species and Climate Change: The Global Status Report," or a summary at: