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WASHINGTON – Each state in America has an official state bird, usually an iconic species that helps define the landscape. Minnesota chose the common loonwhose haunting laments echo across the northern lakes every summer. Georgia chose the brown thrasher, a fiercely territorial bird, with a repertoire of over 1,000 types of music.
But as the planet warms and birds around the country move to escape the heat, at least eight states can see their state birds disappear largely or entirely from within their borders during the summer. according to a new study.
Georgia: Brown Thrasher
May lose 98% of its summer range in the state
The survey, released Thursday by the National Audubon Society, projects that hundreds of bird species in North America are likely to dramatically change their range in coming decades in response to rising temperatures and other threats from climate change.
The report raises the prospect that many bird species may have difficulty coping with warming, which forces them into unfamiliar territory or shrink their existing habitats. And it illustrates how the avian world, as we know it, can be remapped if humans keep pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
If global temperatures rise plausibly by 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels this century, Minnesota will no longer take advantage of the local weather conditions that loons are used to when they come each summer to breed and hunt, according to the study. As a result, birds can completely bypass the state and move north.
The same goes for other birds in the state, including the northern Alabama flicker – locally known as the yellow hammer – as well as the brown thresher in Georgia, the purple finch in New Hampshire, the hermit frog in Vermont and the goldfinch in Iowa and New Jersey. . These birds are predicted to lose virtually all summer ranges in these states at 3 degrees from global warming.
New Hampshire: Purple Finch
You may lose 99% of your summer range in the state
California quails, often seen in the state's suburbs and parks, can lose 87% of their California winter range. And the guinea fowl, the state's official bird in Pennsylvania and popular with hunters, could lose all of its summer and winter in the state, according to the study.
"It's a way of looking at the effects of climate change on our own backyards," said David Yarnold, president of the Audubon National Society. "If you've been to a lake in the north of the United States, you can probably hear the sound of a loon in your head. It's hard to imagine a Minnesota summer without them. It's hard to imagine a summer in New Jersey without goldfinches."
Minnesota: Common Loon
You may lose 100% of your summer range in the state
To conduct the study, Audubon scientists mapped the current ranges and habitats of 604 bird species in North America using data from millions of bird observations. They then used climate models to estimate future bird ranges under warming conditions of 1.5, 2, and 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Many birds were expected to try to move to keep up with changes in temperature, precipitation and vegetation.
Many species can face major disorders.
The report classified 389 of the species studied as "vulnerable" at 3 degrees Celsius of warming. This means that birds are projected to lose a significant portion of their current range and may have relatively limited opportunities to move elsewhere. Examples include the lark bunting, the Colorado state bird and the thrush, a migratory bird that breeds in the eastern forests.
California: California Quail
May lose 87% of its winter range in the state
The report also mapped out which bird species are likely to face additional dangers from climate change, such as rising spring heat, more violent fires or rising sea levels. For example, the piping plover, which builds its nests in sandy areas along the Atlantic coast, must see its habitat invaded by the rising sea.
External experts who reviewed the study called their methods for designing changing bird variations and other reasonable climate threats. But they warned that it can be extremely difficult to predict how many bird species can adapt to warmer climates and new environments – and conversely how many birds may face a greater risk of extinction as a result.
"We still don't know much about how certain species can adapt to changing weather conditions," said Benjamin Zuckerberg, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Ecology and Wildlife at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We can see bird species changing their nesting times or changing their diet."
But, he added, "there is a real concern that the rate of climate change is beyond the ability of many species to adapt."
New Jersey: Goldfinch
You may lose 100% of your summer range in the state
The Audubon report is a much more detailed update of a study published by the group in 2014 on how climate change can disrupt bird populations. And it follows a recent article in Science magazine, which estimates that the total number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen 29 percent since 1970, with 2.9 billion fewer birds in the skies today. Much of this decline, experts say, was probably caused by factors such as habitat loss or pesticide use, not climate change.
But there are some signs that global warming is putting more pressure on birds. In a 2012 study, scientists completed that climate change probably contributed to the decline of the once common rusty blackbird, which has seen its extension into Maine shrink to the north as temperatures have risen.
Pennsylvania: Ruffed Grouse
May lose 100% of its summer and winter range in the state
The Audubon study suggests that there are ways to ease the pressure on North American birds. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions would probably help: The study concluded that limiting total global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius would significantly reduce the vulnerability of hundreds of species.
While nations around the world have sworn under the Paris climate agreement to cut emissions to limit global warming to lower levels, they are nowhere near the path to do so.
Among other things, at the lower end of global warming, many state birds – including the Minnesota Grebe and the New Hampshire Purple Finch – would probably keep at least a fraction of their current range in their states.
There are also adaptive measures that can be taken to protect the habitat of today's birds and any species that might migrate to an area in the future. Audubon president Yarnold noted that policymakers could protect wetlands and local forests, while local communities could plant more native vegetation in the backyards and along the median highways.
"The big advantage is that we can have a huge impact on the future of the planet and birds by altering our emissions trajectory," he said. "But there are also things that people can do in their own communities, in their own backyards."
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Main video credits: Ivan Kuzmin / Alamy, Robert Scholl / Alamy, John Cancalosi / Alamy, Art Phaneuf / Alamy, Jennifer Booher / Alamy, Danita Delimont / Alamy