Opinion; Dr. Tim Ball
Direct claims or inferences that global warming is causing decline or demise of bird populations are increasing. The Audubon Society has a along list, but there are also more references to individual species, such as the Kestrel, and the Swift. There are several regional claims, such as for America. They all assume or imply that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is the culprit. Such claims are another example of exploitation of environmentalism and emotionalism for a political agenda. Like all the other alarmists claims, there is little or no scientific data or understanding of natural patterns and mechanisms, certainly, insufficient to make the claims being made.
Years ago, I peer reviewed an article submitted to a climate journal that claimed decline in population of a bird species on the Atlantic coast of South Africa, was due to human induced global warming (AGW). The article made no attempt to consider other causes. It was an early example of the pattern in the climate alarmist approach, that any decline or change in flora or fauna is due to human activity. The bird claims are a subset of the ill-informed extinction claims.
Movements of land based flora and fauna are different than for those atmosphere or ocean based. They react differently because they operate in fluid, three-dimensional space. This is true over all time spans. For example, it is noted about the Nautilus (Figure 1); “In appearance, they have not changed much in millions of years.”
Figure 1: Nautilus
As their environment changes they adjust more quickly and with greater options. On a short-term basis, fisherpersons, (ugh), know fish vary their depth hourly with changing temperature gradients. Over time, the numbers and patterns of movement, change mostly with horizontal change in condition created by changing wind and ocean currents.
Lamb’s Volume 2 of Climate, Past, Present and Future had a section on changing patterns and distribution of birds, but did not look at other effects resulting from climate changes. It was part of my discussion with him about my thesis research. A subsequent article to a climate journal examined variations in date of arrival of geese on Hudson Bay with the spring migration. “The Migration of Geese, as an Indicator of Climate Change in the Southern Hudson Bay Region Between 1715 and 1851”, Climatic Change, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1983, pp. 83-93.
The major controlling factor was not the temperature but the wind patterns. The geese migrated most of the time (+80%) with a tail wind. On occasions, such as in the period from 1770 – 1790, geese arrived and overnight wind shifts from south to north, caused plummeting temperatures resulting in them being trapped in ice. The fur traders appreciated the opportunity for an easy goose hunt. Wind was also the most important factor in the South African case, as wind and ocean current reversals similar to the El Niño/La Nina occur. The important point about ocean current reversals are, they are caused by wind pattern reversals and that impacts the location and migration of bird species.
Bird populations fluctuate as much as animal populations, but the actual counts are much harder to establish because the birds move to different regions. Usually their movement is triggered and driven by changing wind patterns. In the late 1980s, there were reports of declining waterfowl populations across the Great Plains and its extension, the Prairies of Canada. Immediately the finger pointing began and mostly at agriculture. Clearing woodlands, draining wetlands and use of chemicals were all blamed. It was none of those; it was a drought almost equal in severity to the 1930s drought.
Where did the birds go? Wind patterns changed as the prolonged blocking system, that caused the drought to set in. The north/south flyway (Figure 3) shifted west and bird numbers in western and northwest Canada increased significantly. By the early 1990s, wind patterns shifted back, the rain returned and so did the waterfowl. Of course, there was no apology to the farm community.
Wind is the most neglected weather variable. It is very important for what it tells us about the weather creating mechanisms, but also because of its role in conversion and transfer of moisture and energy. Information about vertical winds, convection, and transport, especially in the Hadley Cell, are inadequate as evidenced by the IPCC AR5 comment that,
Most climate model simulations show a larger warming in the tropical troposphere than is found in observational data sets.
A major problem is that wind mechanisms in these regions are mostly massive convective cells of cumulonimbus that are too small to fit in the smallest grid of a computer climate model. Many birds use these convective winds to gain altitude and begin their migratory patterns.
In the middle latitudes most air moves horizontally. Technically, it is advection, but more commonly called wind. Birds migrate on these winds, so as they change the migration pattern changes. The greatest shifts are between Meridional and Zonal Rossby Waves (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Rossby Waves
North American wind patterns are also influenced by the Rocky Mountains. The result is a set of flyways followed by migrating birds on a seasonal basis (Figure 3).
Humans are directly killing birds and endangering a few unique species almost all by wind turbines. An alternate power source, a result of environmentalists ostensibly saving nature, is having opposite effects.
Figure 3: North American Flyways
Some suggest decline of certain bird species is due to wind farms. It is hard to determine the actual numbers of any one species killed by the turbines. Even a total estimate is unclear. Some endangered species are threatened, for example, Whooping Cranes
“The only sustainable population of whooping cranes in the wild is declining, concurrently with the invasion of their migration route, the Central Flyway, by over 2,000 wind turbines and their power lines. Nearly one hundred of these critically-endangered birds were lost this year, i.e. one third of that population.”
T Boone Pickens, American oil billionaire, decided to exploit the wind turbine subsidies by building a massive wind farm. The problem is it was right on the major flyway and would have chewed up migrating birds. Within 3 years he abandoned the plan not to save the birds, but because of better opportunities, as subsidies disappeared and natural gas became cheaper.
Meanwhile the government didn’t abandon wind farms, but they did abandon the birds. There is a federal fine of $10,000, or a jail term of 1 to 5 years, for a person who kills an eagle. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),
“has not prosecuted a single company for violating one of the many statutes protecting threatened endangered birds.”
Even worse, the Obama Administration has approved a quota of birth deaths per wind farm. As Michael Hutchins, of the American Bird Conservancy said,
“You can’t call it green if it’s killing hundreds of thousands of birds and bats annually and if it’s killing large numbers of protected eagles.
Reports of overall declining bird populations continue, as do claims of species decline. There are also a few reports of increasing populations, like one on woodpeckers. The reason was an increase in a food source, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). At least they didn’t attribute increase in EAB to global warming, but they did provide the source of their information.
“Participants in citizen science projects contribute real, valuable data that allow us to tackle some major ecological questions related to invasive species, urbanization and habitat change, our changing climate, or other factors,” according to David Bonter, Project Leader of Project Feederwatch and a co-author on the study. “FeederWatchers are a particularly dedicated group, contributing more than 4.2 million hours of observation since 1987 and allowing us to track changes in the abundance and distribution of birds across North America.”
Maybe these methods are too subjective, since they are by avid bird watchers, whose zeal is legendary and a focus of satire.
To underscore this problem, there are reports of increasing populations. For example,
“The BBC reports on a new study that suggests many European species of animals and birds have seen their numbers rebound dramatically. And that recovery has been going on for quite some time. In fact, many of the species studied had seen their numbers increase by as much as 3,000 percent since the 1960s.”
The trouble is these reports are as self-serving as the bird watcher’s reports. The increased numbers are attributed to government policy.
The researchers believe a combination of factors have been driving this return. Legal protection in the European Union, such as the birds directive and habitats directive, had helped to revive the fortunes of species, as had dedicated conservation schemes, said Mr. [Frans] Schepers [managing director of Rewilding Europe].
The same article provides another explanation.
It’s not all about legal protections and conservation policy, either. Much of the rebound may be due to increased urbanization and the abandonment of the countryside — leaving more room for animals to thrive.
So what is the truth? The answer is, bird populations fluctuate significantly in absolute numbers, just like all animal populations. They also fluctuate regionally as environmental conditions change. This is especially true of wind pattern changes on migrating birds.
Environmentalists, like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and alarmists, like Al Gore, always try to underscore their claims with threats to animals. They choose animals that people find attractive. These have appealing features like furry coats, preferably white, large round eyes, or manifest anthropomorphic behaviors. One way I underscore the point to people is to list many species increasing in numbers because of the new habitat opportunities. The list includes, snakes, rats, coyotes, mice, among others. Then stop and ask them, “Oh, have I mentioned any you like yet?”
People have a greater affection for birds than any other animals. They are symbols of freedom and beauty and as such a vulnerable vehicle for alarmist exploitations. As H.H. Munro said, “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.” The trouble is, with all these cases, it is more than a little inaccuracy.