Earth Notes: The Audubon National Parks Bird Report

May 16, 2018

The azure western bluebird and noisy red-breasted nuthatch are among the most common and beloved birds on the Colorado Plateau. But, will they and others still live here as the Southwest’s climate warms and dries? Our national parks may be a deciding factor.

Climate Watch citizen scientists
Credit Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Bluebirds and nuthatches are the focus of a new project called Climate Watch. It’s been launched in response to National Audubon Society’s recent National Parks Climate Study. The report predicts how different species of birds will alter their behavior and distribution in the face of climate change.   

According to the findings, colonizing species will outstrip those extirpated in more than 60 percent of the nation’s parks. That’s based on the expectation that some birds will shift their home ranges in response to changing temperature and precipitation. In some parks where climate may become unsuitable, current species could potentially be lost—or they may overwinter instead of migrating.

In our region, parks such as Canyonlands and Arches in Utah are expected to gain species, while others such as Grand Canyon are likely to suffer a net loss.

To test the accuracy of these predictions, the Climate Watch  project will enlist citizen scientists this spring to assess the responses of bluebirds and nuthatches.  And it will continue—once in spring and once in winter—with different species. 

Audubon scientist Brooke Bateman says these surveys offer “a tangible and local way people can contribute to the knowledge needed for effective conservation in a changing climate, and their efforts are the only way we can do this project.”

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