Just as wintry weather hit many areas of the country, the impacts of global climate change hit national news. Learn more in this issue of BirdWire!
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News in Birding, December 2018

By Dawn Hewitt
Managing Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest

BWD Managing Editor Dawn HewittJust as wintry weather finally hit many areas of the country, the impacts of global climate change hit the national news. Notably absent from most news reports were the impacts of climate change on birds. That topic was covered in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, however, and we provide a synopsis here. Related is a study from Finland showing that habitat protection buffers the effects of climate change on birds. A theme in this issue of BirdWire seems to be that birds move—sometimes abandoning longtime hangouts and sometimes moving into areas new to them. In some cases, the cause of such changes can be explained, but in others, it remains a mystery.

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Birds have shifted their ranges in the last 60 years as a result of climate change.
Fourth National Climate Assessment: Impacts of Climate Change
Most news reports of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released on Black Friday, focused on the dire economic impacts of climate change. Chapter 7 of the report, however, is titled “Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity.” It notes that birds in North America have shifted their ranges in the last 60 years, primarily northward, as a result of anthropogenic climate change. It also states that a majority of migratory songbirds on this continent have altered the timing of their seasonal travels in response to climate change. For some species, such as the yellow-billed cuckoo and the blue-winged warbler, “these changes have been outpaced by advancing vegetation in their breeding grounds and stopover sites. The resulting mismatch between consumers and their food or habitat resources can result in population declines.”
European blackbird (Turdus merula)
Study: Protected Areas Help Birds Handle Climate Change
A related study from Finland acknowledges that numerous bird species have expanded their ranges to higher latitudes and altitudes in response to the warming climate. Habitat loss and fragmentation can hinder such range adjustments. The research shows that protected, high-quality habitats slow the northern retreat of some species. The study looked at changes in bird abundance of 30 northern and 70 southern bird species inside and outside of conservation areas over five decades.

Finnish conservation areas are mainly old-growth forest and peat lands, and in the northern latitudes are bounded by the Arctic Ocean. These areas are safe havens for northern birds, accommodating species whose abundance remains high compared to regions outside the conservation areas. Protected habitats also help certain southern species whose range is expanding northward into areas that are new to them.
Brown pelican
Birds Vanish from Bird Island
Don’t look for birds on Bird Island, in Port Orange, Florida. Just south of the Dunlawton Avenue Bridge, the 1.86-acre island was reliably packed with brown pelicans, herons, and egrets until sometime in October, when the birds vanished. The island was declared a protected critical wildlife area last December. Pelicans and other birds continue to inhabit areas around the island and in the park under the bridge, observers say, but the 200-300 birds usually seen on or around the island are gone.

Something similar happened on April 20, 2015, on Seahorse Key, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The 165-acre island that hosted a rookery estimated to contain more than 10,000 nesting pairs of birds was abandoned overnight. Some evacuees moved two miles east to Snake Key, which is about 35 acres. Approximately 3,000 pairs of birds nest there now.

Seahorse remains generally devoid of birds, and biologists and other wildlife experts still have not solved the mystery of why birds abandoned it. Efforts to lure birds to return by using decoys have failed.

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Reader Rendezvous: Panamanian Paradise
Reader Rendezvous: Panamanian Paradise—Only Five Spots Left!
Panama is not just a canal. Yes, there is an amazing one—the crossroads between two worlds—but there is so much more to the country of Panama! Situated perfectly between two continents, Panama, with its warm tropical climate and extraordinary geographic features, is bestowed with an abundance of habitats, a profusion of regional endemics, and unrivaled biodiversity. Panama hosts a diverse palette of flora and fauna including 975-plus bird species, including 107 regional endemics, and more than 230 mammal species, amphibians, and butterflies. The trip is limited to 17 participants and 5 seats are still available.
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Episode 86: Juan the Guan and Other Birding Stories
This Birding Life Episode #86: Juan the Guan and Other Birding Stories
During a recent trip to South America, TBL host Bill Thompson, III, collected stories from six of his fellow travelers and shares them here. Included are stories about Juan the Guan, a treacherous journey to Noir Island, a bear story, and three stories about how birds can change the course of our lives.
Out There with the Birds #46: The Birder in Winter (Wears Silk Long Johns, Apparently)
Out There with the Birds Episode #46: The Birder in Winter (Wears Silk Long Johns, Apparently)
Back to the North from points farther south, the fellows chat throughout a winter-themed episode about such topics as suet feeding, birding in Texas and Colombia, weather and birds, winter clothing, acclimatization, fogging optics, and Ben's new-found love of silk long johns. Bill recounts a traumatic first grade incident involving yellow snow, and his latest musical recommendation is "Sanctify" by St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
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Northern Cardinal: Seeing Red (Or Brown)
Those of us who see them all the time tend to forget how striking cardinals really are. Familiarity keeps us from gawking at them. Let's stop to appreciate this crimson beauty.
Golden Nuggets of Winter
As winter settles in, Julie Zickefoose muses on the smaller, starker aspects of nature: textures of dried weeds, the bones of a bare tree. Birds add color, and sometimes a thrill, such as when a pair of short-eared owls passed low over a nearby pasture.
Beyond the Feeder
Sharon Sorenson has spotted more than 120 bird species in her southern Indiana backyard, but only 29 at her feeders. What makes her yard such a bird magnet? Native plants, which attract more birds than any combination of feeders or seeds.
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