News Release

Birds and climate change: indicators of a changing world

08 December 2009
Purple Finch has undergone an overall northward movement of 643 kilometres in the last 40 years. Photo © Ashok Koshla.

This week, the world's governments are meeting at the United Nation's Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to attempt to agree action to tackle climate change. The outcomes of this will have resounding consequences for biodiversity.

Studies by the BirdLife Partnership show that climate change is already having multiple impacts on birds and their habitats, and is exacerbating many of the factors which have put one in eight of the world's birds at risk of extinction. Many species may have to shift their ranges to survive, and considerably more losers than winners are expected.

One global study estimates that 15–37% of species could be committed to extinction by 2050 as a consequence of climate change; another that each degree of warming could drive another 100-500 bird species extinct. Temperature rises beyond 2 °C are predicted to lead to catastrophic effects on birds, nature, people and the global economy.

Climate change is impacting birds in several ways:

  • range shifts and contractions (poleward in latitude and upward in altitude)
  • population declines
  • changes in behaviour and phenology such as the timing of egg-laying, breeding, and emergence of insects as food source
    disruption of species interactions (predators and prey) and communities
  • exacerbation of other threats and stresses, such as disease, invasive species, and habitat fragmentation, destruction and degradation
  • increased extreme weather events
  • loss of coastal habitats including feeding areas for shorebirds and nesting sites for seabirds, or entire island ecosystems, due to sea-level rise
  • ocean warming effecting ocean productivity, bringing knock-on effects further up the food change.

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