Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Flight Plan

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Flight Plan

Article excerpt

As the sixth mass extinction in Earth's history unfolds around the globe, birds have shown themselves to be remarkably resilient. Since they can fly--and therefore usually have larger ranges than many other critters --avian species seem to be more adaptable to pressure from habitat loss and invasive species. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, while nearly a half of amphibians and a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction, about 14 percent of birds are at risk of being wiped out. When trouble comes calling, many birds are able to fly out harm's way.

But now, trouble is catching up with bird species as climate change challenges their ability to respond to habitat shifts. An exhaustive report by the National Audubon Society warns that more than half of the bird species in North America will be at risk from habitat loss by the end of this century. There are 588 bird species on the continent. According to the Audubon report, 314 of those species will lose more than half of their current range by 2080. While some birds will manage to adapt, some will struggle, and others might disappear if they cannot find suitable habitat in a warming world.

Writing in The Washington Post, Audubon president David Yarnold and the organization's chief scientist, Gary Langham, warned about what is likely to happen unless greenhouse gas emissions are halted:

"Imagine: Within two generations, nine states could discover that their state birds are at risk. …

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