September 2, 2009

Birds fall as temperatures rise

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Californians are watching their bird species cluster, fragment and fray in fast forward due to climate change.

Researchers at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory have found that rising temperatures over the next sixty years will morph the composition of bird species so quickly that tens of thousands of years of change will be accomplished.

The effect will be drastic: a free-for-all bid by all birds to find a mate, a place to rest, and food in an era of declining and shifting resources like trees and insects.   Extinction is the only end for some.

A new mix of chatter and silences will permeate the air as species flee to what feels like home:  the California thrasher, rufous-crowned sparrow and ash-throated flycatcher will move to a hotter Point Reyes Peninsula  losing its fogs and mists.  Other species will withdraw from the Central Valley and move into the foothills and coasts — increasing the competition for the birds who already live there.

The white-crowned sparrow flitting around coastal scrublands will be consolidated into only 24 percent as much swooping space as its habitat is desiccated by the heating of the earth’s atmosphere.  So, too, with the Pacific Northwest’s varied thrush, whose winter sojourns in California will tighten into only 13 percent as much space as it once occupied.

Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that the researchers’ modeling will include up to 300 Californian bird species and shows how melting snowpacks  are changing the kinds and numbers of trees, birds, insects and even pathogens populating our country.

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