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Global Warming is Histories Greatest Threat to Birds

Susan Nugent, a fellow Mast Grdener and Climate Reality Leader writes a column about climate hangs for the Gainesville Sun. She was kind enough to mention me in her column on February 19, 2021. Here is her column:

The Gainesville Sun

Published 12:00 a.m. ET Feb. 19, 2021


This piece expresses the views of its author(s), separate from those of this publication.

Global warming is history's greatest threat to birds

Susan Nugent Columnist

Published 12:00 a.m. ET Feb. 19, 2021

Birds raced to the feeder on a recent morning, surrounding it, circling, hoping others would leave. Goldfinch seemingly attacked as a group, forcing all others off their perches. Even a Baltimore oriole showed up to remind me he lives nearby.

AI Alexa told me a hard freeze warning was in effect that day until 9 a.m. Phone callers have recently made suggestive comments, “You know, this is a really cold winter.” Intonations indicate that a cold day means we can forget about climate change.

Despite having had several freezes in the past weeks, our global climate still warms. In fact last year tied 2016 for the hottest year on record. Climate change does affect weather. As the jet stream becomes more unstable, our weather too becomes less predictable with more extreme weather events.

Weather affects birds, often causing them to turn to the feeder rather than forage for food in nearby trees with leftover fruit. But climate changes have even a greater and graver effect on bird populations. An Audubon fact sheet states, “Global warming is the greatest threat to birds and other wildlife in human history. The rate of global warming is already impacting birds, their prey, and their habitat.”

Urban development affects bird habitat. As our city and county raze trees for development, they must find other spaces for trees. Climate envoy John Kerry recently said that we need to plant five times as many trees as we originally planned. The impact these trees will have on sequestering carbon motivates this action. Such planning and planting would also benefit birds.

Sea rise will affect those dunlins hunched together on the small low tide dabs of land near Shell Mound. Oystercatchers won’t be able to stalk those shores. High tides now make these tiny landing pads disappear. Sooner than we expect, the rising seas will complete the task.

One positive action by both city and county is purchasing lands for parks, for wildlife corridors and for our activities. Keeping land from development provides a much-needed habitat for both birds and people. More and more research shows the value of nature upon the human psyche. Many of my friends spent their pandemic days connecting with nature, including listening to and photographing birds. Bird migration becomes problematic as our climate changes. Sandhill cranes arrive later and leave earlier as days become both longer and warmer. But the vegetation along their migratory path may not sustain them. Although birds have adjusted to changes over the centuries, the increased rate of change does not always provide enough time for adaptation.

“A New NASA Map Shows Spring Is Coming Earlier Each Year” by Shaunacy Ferro details how trees are leafing days earlier in many parts of the U.S., including Nebraska, where many sandhill cranes from both East and West stop during migration. Some spots in Nebraska are seeing leaves 25 days earlier than in the past.

Spending a few recent evenings studying the Burpee seed catalogue, I realize that dates for planting my garden also are changing. Planting zones are shifting, making it necessary for us to check the boundaries of our zone.

My zone has changed twice in the 20 years I’ve lived here. Getting tomatoes planted soon enough to have them finish their production before our days become hotter than 80 degrees during nights becomes more and more problematic. Above that magic number, nighttime 80 degrees, tomatoes won’t produce flowers or fruit.

The pollution in the air that harms our health also affects birds. The reasons to reduce fossil fuels include taking better care of the birds. Our garden tools have an effect here. Running a lawn mower for an hour produces greenhouse gases equivalent to driving 40 cars for that same hour.

Lawnmowers have avoided the restrictions of emissions placed upon the automobile industry. Using an electric mower is far better for our environment (even better in solar homes), decreasing the carbon dioxide.

At a recent climate and gardening presentation, fellow Master Gardener in Seminole County and Climate Reality Leader Richard Schumann emphasized the need for planting native plants. Besides requiring less water, fewer, if any, pesticides, and less fertilizer, native plants help wildlife. For birds, they provide both food and shelter.

Caring for the birds brings many rewards. The Audubon Fact Sheet reminds us that one-third of our food comes from plants pollinated by birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Economically, U.S. birders spend $41billion annually on trips and equipment. Birding becomes big business and grows the economy.

What we do to keep birds coming to our feeders also helps address climate issues. But climate efforts aren’t only for the birds; those efforts create a livable world for all of us.

— Susan Nugent is a Climate Reality Project leader from Gainesville.

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