State of the Birds

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Found on every continent and on islands around the world, birds are one of our planet's most magnificent creatures. But today, bird species face existential threats from climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and other environmental disasters. With the release of the 2010 "State of the Birds" report, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided an up-to-date accounting of the potential effects of climate change on birds--and arrived at chilling conclusions. 

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Comparing bird species by their habitat, the report determined that oceanic and coastal bird species--those found on many of the islands where Seacology works--are among the most imperiled. Oceanic bird species are particularly vulnerable because of their relatively low reproductive rates and their dependence on increasingly precarious island and marine ecosystems for survival.  In addition to the rising sea waters and changing temperatures and weather patterns from global warming, these birds face threats from overfishing, fisheries bycatch, and ocean pollution, as well as from invasive species.

Their coastal neighbors face equally grave dangers, as rising sea levels gradually inundate and fragment low-lying beach and marsh habitats. In addition, the increased frequency and severity of storms will likely disturb many of these habitats and greatly affect their food webs, of which the birds are an integral part.

Of all U.S. bird species, the report identified those of Hawaii and other Pacific Islands as the most threatened. With a high degree of endemism, many island birds are found nowhere else on earth--and even a small climactic shift could mean an end to an entire species. Changes in weather patterns may alter habitats and food availability, while warmer temperatures will likely increase the spread of diseases such as avian malaria and pox. Highly specialized species like the Micronesian Megapode (pictured above), found only in Palau and the Northern Marianas, are already recognized as endangered.

In many habitats, birds serve as critical species to ecosystem health. As predators, they control the populations of fish, insects, and other prey, while their eggs provide food for mammals, reptiles, and other animals. Many birds are also crucial for seed dispersal of trees and other plants. Birds are important indicators of environmental conditions--and their current state is a frightening omen of the effects of climate change. 

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carynne McIver published on March 19, 2010 3:31 PM.

Islands 101: Ocean Zones & Important Species was the previous entry in this blog.

Madagascar's Silky Sifakas is the next entry in this blog.

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