Climate Change and its Impact on Birds

2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record. Since 1900, the global average sea level has risen by around 8 inches. In the last 30 years, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by 95%.

Statistics such as these should surely be enough for us to realise the true implications of climate change. The UN has stated that we have only 12 years to reverse the effects of global warming. Increased temperatures and unpredictable weather, including more frequent and intense storms, heat waves and flooding, are detrimental to entire ecosystems. Furthermore, scientific organisations such as the National Academy of Science have identified climate change as an urgent threat caused by humans. Yet many people view climate change as trivial, refusing to accept responsibility for their actions. We are not the only species that inhabit this Earth.

European birds are crucially affected by climate change. Warmer summers, like 2018’s, have had adverse effects on behavioural strategies in birds. For example, an inability to adapt to increasing climates has been shown to result in reduced care of offspring in some species. A recent study on Eurasian Blue tits from Lund University has shown that overheated birds produce smaller offsprings with lower survival rates. This could gradually lead to the extinction of species critical for flourishing ecosystems.

Similarly, many birds have been observed travelling northwards or to higher altitudes to keep cool in the warmer months. As a result, they may be forced into habituating smaller territories and urban areas, lacking suitable food and shelter. Birds living in the most northern habitats of Great Britain, such as the Scottish crossbill, the UK’s only endemic species of bird, are consequently at risk of extinction.

Established migratory patterns of birds are affected as well. A study conducted at the University of Edinburgh found that birds including the swallow and pied flycatcher are reaching their summer breeding grounds about one day earlier per degree of increasing global temperature. This is important because by reaching the breeding ground at the wrong time, they risk missing out on crucial resources such as food and nesting places, impacting offspring hatching and subsequent survival.

Understanding these new behavioural strategies is incredibly useful as it allows us to identify ways to help threatened species. With so many members of the animal kingdom at risk, an immediate team effort across the country is required. There are plenty of ways in which we can help. For example, we can lower our carbon emission by reducing the amount of meat and sugar we consume (the recently released planetary health diet has some useful tips regarding this), making the most of leftovers to reduce food waste and utilising public transport as much as possible. Together, we can work towards a more positive future for our Earth.

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