Climate change really sucks for some birds, but we can help
The weather outside is frightful…
The weather has always been variable, and this has caused a sometimes dramatic variation in the population sizes of birds. A wet spring can mean breeding failure. A freezing winter can mean many deaths. Very strong winds can hamper migration. Some years, conditions are more favourable for pests and diseases. And so on. But if that was the only problem birds had, their populations would recover in time, as they (mostly) have over millennia.
Climate change brings a whole new set of problems, which are not so easy to solve. This is on top of our appropriating their habitats for our own use. It is predicted that around 7% of species will become extinct. A lot will depend on how fast the climate changes, which depends on how well we get the situation under control. Fighting climate change is fighting for birds and other flora and fauna. But we must be careful — for example, siting wind turbines where birds will not fly into them, and planting the right trees in the right places.
These days wild weather is more frequent and severe, so they have less chance to recover. Droughts may last longer, or rain clouds may slow down and dump all their rain in one area. Larger areas catch fire. For example, in the last year or two North America has experienced a big freeze in Texas, western wildfires as far north as Oregon and which destroyed Lytton in British Columbia, December hurricanes in Kentucky which killed over 70 people, flooding across coastal Texas and Louisiana as well as British Columbia (and there was more).
But spring is so delightful…
If spring comes earlier each year, then caterpillars may have moved on to their next phase by the time birds’ eggs have hatched, leaving little or no food for the nestlings. Similarly, if migrating birds arrive and breed early, they may be too early for caterpillars. A lot depends on how each species adapts.
Birds that migrate are declining world-wide Migration is beginning earlier.
Some birds adapt better than others — in fact, some species’ numbers are growing while others decline drastically.
Where a species has become rare because of habitat loss, we can increase the amount of that habitat — for example planting and maintaining reed beds for bitterns.
Sometimes birds react by moving somewhere better, in which case they may need our help to make their new location more welcoming — without making it less welcoming for the existing residents — by planting trees that they will like and by supplemental feeding. Garden bird feeders can be a lifeline. If there is clearly a trend of changing weather where we live, we can introduce plants that are suited to the new conditions and are good for birds.
But since they’ve no place to go
For some birds, the only way is up. They slowly move up mountains, but either they run out of mountain or the trees and bushes they rely on are too slow to move themselves. The same goes for those that move north. Warner climates can favour pests which, along with the introduction of invasive species (either naturally or by us), can decimate the trees and plants that some birds or their prey rely on. We can help with judicious planting and trying to avoid introducing non-native species.
A watering hole or refueling station on migration is even more important if birds are likely to be blown off course or held up by adverse winds. We need to protect existing ones and expand them where possible — especially those threatened by rising sea levels and those that are rare.
The problems are not only on land. The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic. Plankton and fish are moving northwards to remain in waters with the temperatures that suit them. Sea birds have perforce to follow them, but in breeding season they have to find suitable breeding sites which are not always available, so their staple food may be out of reach. Many much-loved birds such as the graceful arctic tern and the puffin rely on sand eels, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. They can’t recover after a bad year, because the change is permanent.
Help then live, help the poor house sparrow
The European house sparrow population has decreased by one sixth, or 247 million, since 1980.
House sparrows tend to remain loyal to their partner and to their nest site, and they are gregarious. For the 20 plus years I lived in my old home there were always some around. That’s a house sparrow in the picture above. They often nest in crevices provided by our buildings, but modern buildings offer fewer and fewer of these. Modern farming practices mean there is less food for them too.
My next door neighbour here put up a row of nest boxes for them and provided seed, so I saw them every year here too. Until my neighbour got sick and died, and the new people took down the nest boxes. I’ve not seen a house sparrow here since, despite putting up a terrace of nest boxes to replace those they lost — maybe I was just too slow. I can only hope they found somewhere to live further away.
They may struggle to move if climate change makes that necessary, but we can make it easier for them by leaving crevices in our buildings, a return to organic farming and gardening, and providing food if necessary
Each species is affected differently by climate change, which we are causing. It is up to us to help those species which are adversely affected.