On Nature: Birds warn of climate change

On Nature: David Voigts

In olden days miners took canaries into the mine to give them an early warning if toxic gases were present. Now birds in the natural world are giving us a warning. Over the past 50 years, more than 60% of the wintering North American bird species have shifted their winter range northward, according to an analysis of data from the annual National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts that take place each year all across the country. Among the 305 widespread North American bird species, the average midwinter center of abundance has moved northward by more than 40 miles, although 82 species have shifted southward.

The Purple Finch has shown the biggest shift and has moved over 400 miles northward. Other Midwestern bird species with larger winter movement included the Wild Turkey, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, American Robin, Red-breasted Merganser, and the Rufous-sided Towhee.

While other effects of climate change, like increases in extreme weather events, drought that has led to more wildfires, and melting glaciers are harder to quantify – birds are moving north in a measurable response to a warming climate. We need to heed their clear warning and get busy. The methods to use to combat climate change can be debated, but it can no longer be denied that our world is warming.

David Voigts is a retired ecologist and the current Conservation Chair for the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society. He is a Tama County native, graduating from Dinsdale High School, and lives in rural Jesup on his wife’s family farm.