Climate change spells trouble for Berkeley birds

Burrowing owl. Photo: Doug Donaldson
Burrowing Owl: one of the local species that has been identified as being in climate trouble. Photo: Doug Donaldson

Some of Berkeley’s most common and beloved birds could face extinction within the next 70 years due to climate change, according to an authoritative new study by National Audubon Society.

The study – released on Tuesday after seven years of research – predicts the effects of climate change on 588 species of North American birds.

It concludes that nationally, 314 species are at risk – nearly half of the continent’s bird species. Of those, 126 species could see severe population declines by 2050, and another 188 species face the same fate by 2080 if climate change continues on its current path.

For Berkeley and the Bay Area, the list of birds in climate trouble includes some species like Snowy Plovers and Least Terns that are already on state or federal lists of endangered/threatened species.

Allen's Hummingbird. Photo: Bob Lewis
Allen’s Hummingbird. Photo: Bob Lewis

But it also includes many local species that are common — even plentiful — today, such as the American Avocets and Willets that forage along the Albany mudflats, and the Allen’s Hummingbirds that grace many Berkeley backyards in the summer.


And it includes Berkeley’s favorite avian celebrities – the Burrowing Owls that winter in Cesar Chavez Park.

Local species at greatest risk

East Bay species at most serious risk due to climate change include:

Among the Bay Area species we know and love that are at most serious risk due to climate change are:

  • Shorebirds. This includes local nesting species such as Black Oystercatchers and American Avocets, along with wintering species such as Marbled Godwits, Long-Billed Curlews, Short-Billed Dowitchers, and Willets.
  • Both Brown and American White Pelican populations are imperiled by climate change.
  • Familiar wintering ducks at risk include Barrow’s Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Cinnamon Teal, American Wigeon, and even — amazingly — the ubiquitous Mallard, which could see its summer breeding territory shift far north.
  • Four of the five grebes that winter in our immediate area are at risk: Clark’s and Western Grebes, as well as Eared and Horned Grebes.
  • Raptors & Owls: American Kestrels, Golden and Bald Eagles, Swainson’s Hawks,  Northern Harriers, Short-Eared Owls, and Burrowing Owls are among the raptors at risk.
  • Our ubiquitous California and Western Gulls face trouble, as do Ring-billed Gulls.
  • Passerines and hummingbirds. Our Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds are at serious risk, along with Vaux’s Swifts, Brown Creepers, and Pygmy Nuthatches.
Long-billed Curlew by Bob Lewis
Long-billed Curlew. Photo: Bob Lewis

“The greatest threat our birds face today is climate change,” said Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Audubon Society, the chapter that represents Berkeley and San Francisco. “Unless we quickly and dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, some of our most beloved local birds could vanish in our children’s lifetimes.”

Audubon is calling on people to take a two-pronged approach to prevent mass avian extinctions:


  • Limit the severity of climate change by reducing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
  • Help birds adapt to climate change by protecting the habitat they will need in the future, along with the habitat they need today.

To ensure adequate habitat, Audubon is using data from the study to predict which geographic areas will be most important for the survival of particular species in the future. It will then mobilize people to preserve and protect those places.

Western Grebes. Photo: Bob Lewis
Western Grebes. Photo: Bob Lewis

Rigorous science based on CBC data

The Audubon study — released this week in peer-reviewed journals – was based on over 40 years of bird population data from Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (winter populations) and U.S. Geological Survey Breeding Bird Surveys (summer populations), combined with climate date from leading climatologists.

Audubon scientists considered not just changes in temperature but other climate-related factors such as water availability. They looked at how today’s livable habitat for each species might change under a range of climate assumptions.

Many birds will be able to adapt and colonize new areas that meet their needs for food and habitat.  Great-tailed Grackles, for instance, are already starting to move north into Northern California.

But many birds will not be so lucky. For instance, the Trumpeter Swan and Brown-headed Nuthatch could lose more than 99 percent of their current range.


Based on climate projections, National Audubon classified all 588 species as either:

  • Stable (like the Great-Tailed Grackle),
  • Endangered (will lose at least 50 percent of their current habitat range), or
  • Threatened (will lose at least 50 percent of their range but may be able to make up some of that loss in new areas).

The species on the above list of East Bay birds above are all in NAS’s “endangered” category — facing the loss of at least 50 percent of their nationwide winter range, summer range, or both.

How you can help

  • Read more about the National Audubon report.
  • Hear National Audubon’s chief scientist Gary Langham in person, on Thursday evening Sept. 18 in San Francisco.
  • Put birds on the political agenda by talking with friends, neighbors and community leaders about the risk of extinctions due to climate change.
  • Get involved with one of the many organizations fighting to minimize greenhouse gases and create a clean-energy economy.
  • Help preserve and restore existing bird habitat. Join a local shoreline clean-up event on Saturday, Sept. 20, California Coastal Cleanup Day. Or join Golden Gate Audubon’s monthly habitat restoration days at Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline Park in Oakland.
  • Create a bird-friendly yard. Healthy birds will be better equipped to withstand the challenges of a warming world. Create safe spaces for birds by using fewer pesticides, converting lawns to native plants, letting dead trees stand, installing bird baths, and keeping cats indoors. Learn more at Audubon.org.

Ilana DeBare is Communications Director for Golden Gate Audubon Society. She has previously written for Berkeleyside about the abundance of crows in Berkeley.

Related:
Counting crows: Why are there so many in Berkeley? (03.28.14) 
In a Berkeley park a bluebird displays unusual behavior
 (08.05.13)
Lynxes of the bird world: Cooper’s hawks nest in Berkeley (04.18.13)
The mystery and thrill: Shorebirds enjoy winter in Berkeley (03.21.13)
Sitting on the dock of the bay: Birds throng Berkeley pier 02.28.13)
Rare bluebird sightings bring happiness in a Berkeley park (08.07.12)

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