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Climate Change Affecting Avian Life

March 12, 2010

Birds are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, as some species are experiencing physiological changes and others are facing possible extinction, according to a pair of recent studies.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar presented findings that suggested that several North American avian species were at risk because of global warming.

Among the birds facing the biggest threat are oceanic birds such as the albatross and the puffin, because they tend to produce a small amount of offspring and they live in areas that have been heavily impacted by climate change.

The findings are cause for concern not only because of the possible extinction of these birds, Cornell University conservation science director Kenneth Rosenberg, who contributed to the report, told the AFP for a March 11 article.

“Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change,” says Rosenberg. “Many species of conservation concern will face heightened threats, giving us an increased sense of urgency to protect and conserve vital bird habitat.”

Salazar’s findings came one day before a BBC News article discussed the findings of a separate study, which found that over 100 species of American songbirds have become smaller over the past 50 years. Changes in the global climate are the suspected culprit, according to the findings, which have been published in the ecological journal Oikos.

The research, completed by Dr. Josh Van Buskirk of the University of Zurich and Robert Mulyihill and Robert Leberman of Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Museum of National History, involved analyzing 486,000 different birds from 1961 through 2007. They measured the size and weight of each species, and found that 60 out of 83 birds caught during spring migration, 66 of 75 autumn birds, 51 of 65 summer birds, and 20 of 26 winter birds had reduced in size over the 46 year span.

“The headline finding is that the body sizes of many species of North American birds, mostly songbirds, are gradually becoming smaller,” Buskirk told BBC News Earth News editor Matt Walker on March 12, adding that it more study is required before any potential long-term positive or negative health effects can be discerned. “Many of these species are apparently doing just fine, but the individual birds are becoming gradually smaller nonetheless.”

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