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Jan 312008

By John DeFore

This is the time of year when many Northerners habitually decamp for sunnier climes. Serious real-estate strategists, though, may be rethinking their long-term plans in the face of climate change predictions. They wouldn’t be alone: Birds are already making the move.

Researchers at Auburn University believe they have found correlations between global warming trends and shifts in the breeding ranges of birds in North America. Using a large set of data collected since 1966, they found a northward shift in breeding ranges that echoes one observed in English studies, suggesting that dozens of species of birds are being nudged out of some areas by rising temperatures.

It’s uncertain what effects this will have on individual species or their surroundings. As Alan Hitch, the doctoral student conducting the study, puts it, “it could be possible that the birds might be moving into habitat that is not optimal — i.e., different predators, different habitat structure and different prey abundance and types.” New diseases in these territories wasn’t the focus of Hitch’s research, but he acknowledges that these also could “contribute to the decline of shifting bird populations.”

The idea that birds are challenged by climate change, and related factors such as habitat loss and air pollution, is a well-known issue. In 2007, the Audubon Society identified 176 species in the continental U.S. and 38 in Hawaii that are in need of immediate conservation help. See their 2007 Watch List for more information. Audubon also is studying how some birds have expanded their territory into urban areas, thereby adapting and surviving.

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