Migratory Birds Trying to Tell Us Something

by Chad Lovette

Our planet’s recent temperature changes are starting to affect the world around us more than we realize. Studies have recently found that a large percentage of migratory birds across the globe have begun to change their routes as well as their departure times. Although this sounds like nothing to worry about on first thought, the effect of these birds taking flight during off seasons could severely alter ecosystems, and may very well be a sign of more changes to come.

The migratory birds that are starting to head south for winter days or weeks early may be out of luck. If a bird flies into winter nesting grounds before the pests have arrived, the lack of food can completely offset the species’ breeding cycle. This could mean a large change in the amount of birds mating, which could also lead to an overpopulation of the pests these birds had once lived off of. If this chain reaction continues, then these pests could seriously affect our produce, and will cause a rise in insect borne illnesses.

“Birds are excellent indicators of what is happening in our ecosystem and if it is healthy or unhealthy,” said Alicia King Communications Director at the Urban Bird Treaty Program. “Without the bird’s important roles in pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and eating insects-we could be in for quite the change.”

With this slight change in migratory bird patterns our environments around the world could begin to change as well. Bird watchers everywhere have already begun noticing different species of migratory birds arriving to different locations earlier in the seasons.

“The main problem with the birds coming in earlier,” says Richard Allen, a bird watcher from Boone, NC, “is that they are becoming out of sync with their breeding cycle, which could end up leading to them getting out of sync with their food supply.”

As this trend continues and becomes more and more substantial, the changes will start to become clear to everyday citizens. If an ecosystem loses a bird that had a daily intake of pests, then the results could be catastrophic, for humans as well as other species in the ecosystem.

Locally, shorebirds are severely affected by these changes in temperature. Not so much by their migratory patterns, but in the rising sea tides, which can completely ruin the birds’ seasonal nests.

“A lot of local shorebirds must have their nests close to shore,” said Captain Joe Abbate, Cape Fear Naturalist and bird specialist. “With changes in temperature the tides are beginning to rise causing areas where the birds could once nest to become inundated. Not to mention the fact that most shorebirds thermal regulate, which means they use the cool water on their bellies to keep their eggs at the right temperature. A tiny change of only one degree can be the difference in a sterile egg and a well incubated egg.”

Scientists and bird watchers alike feel as if they can’t say it enough; nearly all of these changes are happening due to global warming. The increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses has nearly doubled in the past 20 years and is forcing a change in temperature around the globe. Researchers have already found that birds have begun to fly not as far south.

“With new bird tracking technology we are now able to watch the migrations of specific birds for up to ten years,” said Angel Mitchell, Bird Specialist and Veterinarian. “This technology will be able to prove the changes that are being made in the migratory patterns of specific birds.”

One species of North American Warbler has shifted its journey 65 miles north in the past 24 years. This is exactly what researchers are expecting will occur globally as birds begin to seek climates to which they can adapt.

If this steady increase in temperature continues over the next fifty to one hundred years, leading to a total change in global ecosystems, this could in turn cause the extinction of many of the plants and animals we know today.

“During our planet’s last ice age everything slowly changed, giving most species around the world time to adjust and move if they needed to,” said Alex Fisher, an Environmental Science Major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “The only difference with what is happening now, is that because of all our anthropogenic impacts, these changes are happening at an unbelievable pace giving no time for birds, or any surrounding species to adjust.”

Though the current worry is focused on migratory birds they are really just the clear indication on how our use of fossil fuels is affecting everything in the world around us. This change will begin to affect much more, including songbirds and other animals as their habitats begins to shift with the climate changes. This could even mean large forests in certain locations, such as along the Rocky Mountains, beginning to die out.

“The world around us is changing as we know it. The affect we have on our planet is inevitable at this point,” said Zach Dewitt, Environmental Education Intern at Bald Head Island. “These birds are natural indicators that something in the environment isn’t quite right. All we can really do now is try to be more environmentally conscious, and slow down the rapid changes that are happening across the globe.”

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