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Climate Change Puts North American Birds At Risk Of Extinction

Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flikr
Two-thirds of North American birds, like the brown pelican, are in danger of extinction due to climate change, according to the National Audubon Society. COURTESY FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE

Less than 24 hours after the Trump administration pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, the National Audubon Society released a report warning that two-thirds of North America's birds are in danger of extinction due to climate change.

From sea levels rise to rapidly increasing global temperatures, the report says many bird habitats are becoming unlivable, forcing birds to relocate -- a situation they may not survive.

With erosion wearing away the islands many birds depend on for nesting, species such as the brown pelican, black skimmer, and roseate spoonbill may soon disappear from Tampa Bay.

“Some of the birds that we think of as being most iconic for Florida are some of the ones that are most endangered,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of the Florida Audubon Society.

Credit Alysia Cruz / WUSF
From left, Julie Wraithmell, executive director of the Florida Audubon Society, Mary Keith, president of the Tampa Audubon Society and Rep. Cathy Castor. Alysia Cruz/WUSF

She said the effect climate change is having on birds is just a sign of the impact it’s having on the ecosystem as a whole.

“The ecosystem services that they depend upon for clean air and clean water and abundant natural areas, we also depend upon both for our health and our economic prosperity,” Wraithmell said.

However, local and national Audubon Society leaders say there’s still time to prevent what they call a dire situation.

“The good news is that more than three quarters of [vulnerable North American bird species] can have a different future if we all work together to hold global temperature increases to 1.5°C rather than the 3°C projection that has us all incredibly concerned,” Wraithmell said.

For local governments looking to reduce their carbon footprint, the Florida Audubon Society has created a toolkit with ideas for slowing climate change.

“There are many levels at which this crisis has been created, and that also means there’s many levels at which we can act,” Wraithmell said. “Cities and counties taking action to improve their efficiency and make the shift to renewable energy sources.”

The Audubon Society is working to increase local climate advocacy at the college level through a Regional Conservation Leadership Initiative, said Mary Keith, president of the Tampa Audubon Society.

“We will be ... providing mentors for university students from 10 counties to come in for a day of talking about conservation, how they can be leaders to help educate the community, influence their communities, work within their universities, to help move this whole conservation initiative forward,” Keith said.

To see how climate change is affecting the birds in your area, visit the report’s interactive website.

Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.