Autumn in Florida brings relief from the suffocating heat and dripping humidity of summer. We Floridians begin to venture outside once again – just in time for the seasonal arrival of unique and abundant migratory birds. Some of those birds that fly south only rest in Florida before heading to Central and South America. Some stay for a couple of months until their breeding and nesting grounds up north thaw come spring. Then there are those snowbirds that return to the Sunshine State to breed and nest, remaining with us for six months or more.
However, studies are showing these patterns are shifting as a result of warmer overall temperatures. The analogy of the canary in the coal mine is an apt one – birds often are the first harbingers of changing habitats. “We see trends first in birds because it is so easy to see,” said Elena Sachs, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Florida Bird Conservation Initiative. “We can monitor migration, breeding and timing patterns in migratory birds. For everything to continue to work in sync, the birds, insects, plants and wildlife must change at the same rate. That doesn’t always happen.”
Several studies across the nation point to one thing: rising temperatures over the past 40 years have resulted in drastic changes in migration patterns among some species of birds. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) records show the average temperatures for January rose more than five degrees Fahrenheit in the continental United States over the past 40 years.
Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count has resulted in one of the largest repositories of bird-migration data in the world. Audubon released a study compiling the “citizen scientists’” findings. The data, in conjunction with statistics on rising temperatures, is startling: 305 widespread bird species in North America “have moved dramatically northward – toward colder latitudes – over the past four decades.” “We were able to look at the trends for almost four decades using our counts and NOAA’s figures,” said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society. “If there is no further warming then it’s just a fun study; but that’s not what the experts say. They say this warming trend will continue.”
The 110th Christmas Bird Count runs from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. The Audubon Society’s Web site will have specific information by November. Visit www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc and click on “Get Involved.” You also can contact your local Audubon chapter for further information on how to get involved.