About those claims of declining bird populations due to 'climate change'

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

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The Audubon Society and other conservationist groups have recently been getting publicity for the idea that bird populations in the United States are declining and that the cause of the decline is Climate Change or Global Warming. Dr. Tim Ball recently wrote about this in an essay here with a long criticism of the alarmism involved in this claim, but didn’t really tell us anything about the birds, their decline, or the true causes of population shifts. Here I try to shed some of the light of data on this issue.

“Audubon’s unprecedented analysis of forty years of citizen-science bird population data from our own Christmas Bird Count plus the Breeding Bird Survey reveals the alarming decline of many of our most common and beloved birds.” [ link ]

“Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50% of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.” [ link ]

Well now, that all sounds pretty serious. There is actually an organization established to keep us all up to date on the state of the birds called, erhm, The State of the Birds. The State of the Birds website was produced for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is a jointly supported project by the following organizations:

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This broad list of supporters allows us to rule out simple financial gain as a biasing factor for any particular organization, as we might suspect of, say, the Audubon Society report.

Note that while I complained that Dr. Ball’s essay hadn’t supplied data on bird numbers, I find I will do the same. Counting birds is difficult and imprecise – birds you see in your yard on Monday might not be back until Friday. I am happy to accept the two different counts – one by Audubon and one by the USGS Breeding Bird Survey – as being the only useful data easily found. Care should be taken when interpreting the numbers. In the following essay, the large block quotes are from The State of the Birds 2014 report, unless otherwise noted.

What does the State of the Birds tell us? Like Audubon, they present a list of common birds in steep decline. 33 birds on the SOTB list:

Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Scaled Quail, Northern Bobwhite, Purple Gallinule, Franklin’s Gull, Herring Gull, Black Tern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Loggerhead Shrike, Horned Lark, Bank Swallow, Verdin, Varied Thrush, Snow Bunting, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Field Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark [mentioned later], Rusty Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Common Grackle and the Pine Siskin.

What is happening that brought about these declines?

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Now that is very clear. First, notice that birds are actually increasing. Green, positive change, far outweighs declines. Second, notice that the focus in on habitat – not species.

“Where conservation investments have been made in healthy habitats and cleaner water, birds are doing well. Due to conservation action, many wetland birds are showing strong population gains, and grassland bird populations are showing signs of improvement. Bird populations in eastern and western forests and aridlands are all in decline, reflecting the urgent need for conservation in these habitats.”

and

“Coastal birds, shorebirds, and island birds are squeezed into shrinking strips of habitat impacted by development and invasive species. Some seabird populations are recovering from prior declines, though threats remain from fishing operations, offshore energy development, and climate change.”

We have our first mention of climate change….what are they actually referring to?

COASTAL BIRDS, SHORELINE BIRDS

Coastal Birds:

“Meanwhile, Gulf coastal wetlands loss continues; coastal habitats will need additional conservation measures to counter wetlands loss and sea-level rise. Birds along the Atlantic Coast are squeezed for habitat in this most densely human-populated region of the U.S. Additionally, coastal engineering projects—such as sea walls being built to defend against sea-level rise—are impacting beach-nesting species such as Piping Plover and tidal marsh birds such as Saltmarsh Sparrow. “

In the Gulf states, as everywhere else, sea level rise means the change of the sea level compared to the adjacent land – and in the vast delta areas the land is subsiding (“sinking”) as the sea slowly rises. NOAA’s Tides and Currents Sea Level Trends map shows the story.

Notice that here we find the first indications that the possible future is being confused with the present. I could find no reports of seawalls being built in the US on beaches to defend against sea level rise. There are seawalls being built, such as that in Seattle, but it is to provide level seas for their piers. In the present, seawall construction is not underway to defend against sea level rise – that is a potential future threat – and it is highly unlikely that fabulously expensive seawalls will ever be built to protect the secluded beaches needed by plovers for nesting. Note that the claim seems to come from a self-repeating claim made in Maine such as this example:

“Today, because of the construction of seawalls, jetties, piers, homes, parking lots and other structures, the available shoreline habitat for these two species has been reduced by more than 75 percent.” [ link ]

Of course, coastal construction projects, some of which are built with protecting seawalls, which disturb the “just above the high tide line” dunes, preferred nesting sites for plovers, are affecting and will affect their populations. On Merritt Island, in Florida, where I have spent the last two winters, plovers nest in the 50 foot wide strip of dunes directly in front of the condos and high-rise apartment buildings along the beach – nesting sites protected only by signs during the nesting season. Piping Plovers are not on the list of 33 common birds in steep decline.

Shorebirds:

“Long-distance migrants are steeply declining and need international conservation. Shorebirds are declining more than many other species groups. Long-term migration counts for 19 shorebird species show an alarming 50% decline since 1974. Declines are particularly strong for long-distance migrants that breed in the Arctic and boreal forest. Species with the steepest declines include Red Knot, Hudsonian Godwit, and Ruddy Turnstone. Long-distance migrants require healthy stopover habitats along their entire pathway, and the chain of sites is only as strong as the weakest link. For example, overharvesting of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay can threaten the entire Atlantic coastal population of Red Knots, as they depend on this food source during their intercontinental migration.”

Take home: Coastal and Shoreline birds are affected by coastal development – not climate change – coastal species are gaining for the most part, they are not in decline. Some long-distance migrating shoreline birds are in trouble due to habitat changes along their migration routes.

GRASSLANDS BIRDS:

“Since 1968, the grasslands indicator for 24 obligate breeding birds declined by nearly 40%, but the decline flattened out beginning in 1990. This recent stabilization noted in the 2009 report continues today, reflecting the significant investments made in grassland bird conservation. Reductions in Farm Bill conservation funding, however, threaten those investments.

Eastern grassland birds (such as Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink) have continued a steady and precipitous decline, associated with declines in pasturelands due to changing dairy farming practices and suburban sprawl.

A sub-group of shortgrass prairie-nesting birds in the Western Great Plains—including Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s and Chestnut-collared longspurs—also continue steep declines, which may be driven by large-scale agricultural conversion and overgrazing on their wintering grounds in the Chihuahuan Desert that spans the U.S.–Mexico border.” (emphasis mine)

Grassland birds are not in decline, they are gaining. Individual species are suffering from changes in habitat availability, such as the Eastern Meadowlark, which is typical of the group:

“Their [Eastern Meadowlark ] status and distribution has undergone historic changes in the northeastern U.S. where meadowlarks noticeably increased during the nineteenth century as a result of deforestation and the spread of agriculture (Andrle and Carroll 1988, Laughlin and Kibbe 1985). These population trends were reversed during the twentieth century, and Eastern Meadowlarks show some of the most consistent declines of any grassland bird on the BBS.” [BBS = USGS Breeding Bird Survey ] [ link ]”

Take home: Grassland birds are gaining, but negatively affected in some cases by changes in agricultural practices (sometimes reversing gains from previous shifts in the very same practices) which change available habitat – for the most part, they are not in decline.

WETLAND BIRDS:

“The inland wetlands indicator for 87 obligate freshwater breeding birds shows strong growth, with a more than 40% gain since 1968. These gains among wetland birds are the continuing legacy of important legislation such as the Clean Water Act and the Farm Bill’s conservation provisions.”

Take home: Wetland birds are doing well after heroic efforts at wetlands restoration – habitat restoration.

ARIDLANDS BIRDS:

“The aridlands indicator for 17 obligate birds—breeding birds of desert, sagebrush, and chaparral habitats in the West—is the most steeply declining of all habitat indicators, with an overall loss of 46% since 1968. Just since 2009 this indicator dropped 6%, extending a nearly continuous 44-year decline. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to residential and energy development are the most consistent and widespread threats. Long-term habitat degradation from unsustainable land use, invasions of non-native grasses, and encroachment by trees and shrubs also play significant (and underappreciated) roles in the decline. These negative effects have been exacerbated over the past decade by severe drought, creating extremely difficult conditions for aridland birds such as Bendire’s and Le Conte’s thrashers, the two fastest declining species in the aridlands indicator.”

Aridland birds are the category most adversely affected according to the chart at the top of this essay. They are, however, being affected by the same thing — habitat loss or habitat change. They could be rightly classified as being adversely impacted by a climatic condition – yet another extended drought that plagues a good portion of the southwestern United States. The causes of the drought are controversial, but seem to be settling out to be natural variability – “[Martin] Hoerling’s conclusions echo those of another longtime student of western drought, Richard Seager of Columbia University…. “I’m pretty sure the severity of this thing is due to natural variability.”

Take home: Aridlands birds are negatively affected by habitat loss and naturally hit hard by the extended drought which is not attributable to climate change.

FOREST BIRDS:

 

“The eastern forests indicator for 26 obligate breeding birds shows an overall drop of 32%, with a continued steady decline since 2009. Species dependent on either young forests (such as Golden-winged Warbler and Eastern Towhee) or mature deciduous forest (such as Wood Thrush and Cerulean Warbler) are showing the steepest declines. Because 84% of eastern forests are privately owned, timber companies and other forest owners can greatly benefit bird populations by maintaining large forest blocks and participating in sustainable forestry initiatives.

The western forests indicator, based on 39 obligate breeding species, has declined nearly 20% and has continued to decline since 2009. More than half of western forests are on public lands. Species dependent on oak and pinyon- juniper woodlands (such as Oak Titmouse and Pinyon Jay) are showing the steepest declines. As in the East, both early successional species (such as Rufous Hummingbird and MacGillivray’s Warbler) and mature forest species (such as Vaux’s Swift and Cassin’s Finch) are declining. Major threats to U.S. forests include urban and ex-urban development, changes in natural disturbance regimes including fire, and exotic insect pests and diseases.”

What about this?: “Major threats to U.S. forests include urban and ex-urban development”. Here is a satellite image of the Northeastern US – the most densely populated and the most developed region of the United States:clip_image007

One can clearly see NY City, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Boston, Providence, Albany, etc. The rest is forest and mostly abandoned farmland.

Note that Early-Successional Forest means “Young trees and shrubs, often occupying recently disturbed sites and areas such as abandoned farm fields, provide unique and important habitat for many wildlife.” Where there are less changes, birds of this habitat suffer. This means less clear-cutting, less abandoned farms, fewer fires that clear the land.

Take home: Forest birds showing some declines are affected by loss of and changes to habitat. There is no climate change indictment here.

* * * *

There are a few more categories – but this post is getting much too long as it is. We see the general situation – bird populations follow the general formula for all populations as follows:

“…a simple model assumes that the population in the next year will depend only on the population in the current year. So, if xn is the population in year n, then xn+1 will be some function of xn.

One very simple model assumes that a proportion, axn, say, breed successfully and that bxn2 die from overcrowding [or outstripping the carrying capacity of their habitat]. To simplify the equations we may re-scale the coordinates to obtain the following quadratic equation:

xn+1 = rxn(1-xn)

for some fixed number r >0 and initial population x1.” [ link ]

Those of you who have followed Dr. Robert G. Brown’s recent essay here, and some of his subsequent comments there, will be aware of the role of Chaos Theory in climate science. Chaos Theory plays a prominent role in population dynamics as well – the above equation produces a population graph like this one:

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[ link ]

This graph is the above formula, applied for initial population of x1=0.2 (solid line) and then x1=0.2001(dotted line). After just a dozen years or so, the lines diverge, and produce near extinctions three or four times in 30 years, but at different times. This behavior is typical of population dynamics.

What this means for bird populations is this: “A population will exhibit chaotic behavior, if reproductive output is high and there are strong density effects regulating population size [for example highly dependent on specific, limited habitat features for nesting or feeding during migration].” Other populations may be subject to other dynamics which result in populations that settle down to a figure centered on habitat carrying capacity, or, for those characterized by a limit cycle, will alternate between 2, 4, or possibly 8 population sizes in succession.

Small changes initial conditions – either population or the term “r” representing the combined forces that mean “growth” for the species (and according to The State of the Birds this means area of habitat and health of habitat) in some combinations lead to chaotic results – sudden crashes and sudden booms maybe interspersed with years of stability. In the real world, the populations of Pacific sardines or anchovies – possibly some species of salmon – clearly exhibit this behavior.

The point here is that we don’t really know what many of the individual bird species are reacting to – not all cases are as simple as the Eastern Meadowlark for whom availability of “meadows” apparently directly determines populations. But, we can be fairly sure that if there are only 50% as many meadows, there will be fewer meadowlarks.

It is this feature of the modern world that is credited with increases and decreases in apparent bird populations – habitats for birds change from year to year, decade to decade, and century to century – both for natural reasons and anthropogenic reasons.

I call your attention to the lack of climate change or global warming in the attribution statements from The State of the Birds. [There are a few species that seem to be affected by changes in the sub-Artic regions of Canada and some species limited to drought stricken areas.] Changes in bird populations appear to be almost entirely caused by changes in habitats – both negative changes and positive changes.

So where does all this alarm over bird populations come from? From here:

“Audubon scientists used three decades of citizen-scientist observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey to define the “climatic suitability” for each bird species—the range of temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes each species needs to survive. Then, using internationally recognized greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, they mapped where each bird’s ideal climatic range may be found in the future as the climate changes. These maps serve as a guide to how each bird’s current range could expand, contract, or shift across three future time periods (2020, 2050, and 2080).” (emphasis mine) [ link ]

“Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50% of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.” [ link ]

ADDITONAL DRIVERS OF POPULATION CHANGE:

 

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CATS, CATS, CATS and CATS

SUMMARY:

 

Bird populations in the United States are changing – some for better, some for worse – the primary driver of changing populations is habitat change – both natural and anthropogenic – including such natural variations as precipitation, seasonal changes, drought and fire and anthropogenic factors like development and changing agricultural practices.

Climate, so far, has had very little (or no) effect. Posited Climate Change is not even in the running.

Housecats (pets and feral) have a disproportionately large negative effect on populations of small, low- and ground- nesting birds.

Alarm about bird populations is based on barely understood population dynamics blended with so-far-unsuccessful IPCC climate predictions, which some scientists believe to be fanciful at best.

# # # # #

Authors Replies Policy: I will be glad to respond to your questions about sources for bird population data, the basis of the population dynamics formula and to supply links to information not already linked in this essay. I have little interest in (and am generally not qualified to speak to) the larger issues of AGW, CAGW, Global Warming, Global Cooling or Climate Change and will not be responding to comments on those topics. I am lukewarm on house cats and believe that they should be precisely that – in-the-house cats. I do, however, like birds.

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milodonharlani

It’s not “climate change”, but misguided efforts to combat that non-problem that are killing birds, ie windmills & solar farms.

Thanks for your comments and analysis. I am sure they will come in handy when responding to claims about the effects of climate on birds here in Western Canada.
CAS

Kip Hansen

According to Audubon, climate change will drive birds up your way.

JimS

The bird population of the earth can be measured in hundreds of billions:
http://www.amnh.org/ology/features/askascientist/question16.php
Yes, there are causes for concern about the decline of a species or two, but has it been different before?

Kip Hansen

Reply to JimS ==> Whether or not we, as stewards of planet Earth, should be concerned about a species or two of birds is a deeply philosophical question. One interesting thing about modern biology is that the field has no widely agreed upon definition of “species” — and I have this from several working biologists — it is one of those hidden dirty little secrets that come to light in science every so often. The result is that a breed, variety, type, color variant, or local population is often classified as a separate species — when it is not according the usually quoted definition of species:

“a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus”

Almost all of the hub-bub about species loss is about losing local populations of an animal or plant — not the entire population of that animal or plant by the definition above.
While we are perfectly willing to call a Hereford cow a “cow” — we are less willing to call an American Bison a “cow” — even though Herefords and Bison happily interbreed and produce viable offspring and thus could be considered the same species, cow, but different breeds. (Think of dogs as out best known example of this.)

Chuck

The exact same thing goes on with butterflies. There are two camps; the “lumpers” who stick with the traditional definition of species and the “splitters” who try to create as many “species” out of sub-species and local populations as possible.

James the Elder

As a boy I hunted quail. Around the time of the global cooling scare, the quail began to disappear. Not from cold but from trees. As the forests grew, the low scrub from wholesale cutting that quail love went away. I haven’t seen a flock of quail in over 40 years and a bob-o-link in over 50. However, the wild turkey, which I seldom saw when smaller is now rampaging through those now replenished forests. Different conditions, different populations; simple as that.

Kip Hansen

Reply to James the Elder ==> Yes, very good examples of habitat change leading to declines and increases of varying populations dependent on differing, conflicting, habitats.
The habitat you describe is called, in the ornithology and forestry worlds, Early-Successional Forest. Upstate New York , Vermont, and Massachusetts have hundreds of thousands of acres of this habitat as small farms are allowed to go back to natural forest.

beng

Same here in the mid-Appalachians, no more quail, but more turkeys. Return of some large birds like green & great blue herons and even bald eagles along waterways. And of course, a population explosion of Canada geese…

Well done!! Thanks!

Danny Thomas

Habitat loss. Man. Cats. Predators. Invasive species.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Danny Thomas ==> Exactly, sir. So far, not Climate Change.

That is a common confabulation in global warming, even as measured by the warmists – land use/habitat change versus CO2. There is hardly a climate skeptic here on WUWT who would be arguing with the warmists at ALL, if the warmists declared land use as the cause of increased temps (leaving the “pause” out of it for the moment).
Warmists repeatedly point at land use evidence and lump that in VERY sloppily with CO2 as if they are one and the same thing – which they decidedly are NOT. Especially when the warmists are doing NOTHING to push for changes in land use policies.
In addition, Matt Ridley continually points out that we are actually returning land back to nature. Connect that with the meadowlark declines… which only argues that we ARE moving in that direction, toward more forests and green areas. That certainly was not the case before, say, 1970, but it certainly is NOW. This could easily be interpreted that the warmists have their brains stuck in the 1960s, in the brain of Paul Ehrlich.

Jimbo
Jimbo

How long have Old World cats been haunting the Americas? Apparently cats and dogs were brought over to the mainland by Christopher Columbus in in 1498. Though it’s possible the Vikings brought cats over before to L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.
Over 500 years of CATastrophe for bird populations in the USA.

The Great Exchange
The global exchange of cultures, plants, animals, and, disease.
Cats, like dogs, were brought over in Christopher Columbus’ first voyages to the New World. They were not kept on the ships to purr in the sailors’ laps, they had an important job: control the rat populations. They were good at it, but they also saw an opportunity and followed the rats as they jumped ship, finding a new home. The islands of the Caribbean did not have any natural predators that could control the cat populations and feral cats became a problem for the Americas. Like the rat and the pig, they ate small animals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, wiping out many species. For a while, dogs were used to help control the cat population, but they, too, became wild. Today, more than 500 years later, feral cats are still a major problem all across the Americas.
http://www.vos.noaa.gov/MWL/dec_08/great_exchange.shtml

I like birds too!
The problem with many coastal birds is the competition with other coastal birds. As the various species of cormorants take over areas, there are other native species that lose out.
There is no shortage of them in San Mateo, as they shit all over the place causing an over powering stench that permeates the place. Even Chuck Schumer in New York recognizes this species as one of concern. Not because they are in trouble, but because of the affect on fish.
Schumer said. “For the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on Oneida Lake for their livelihood, for anglers, and for summer recreation, the return of the invasive and fish-devouring cormorant bird population is a troubling thought. These non-native birds damage the ecosystem and hurt tourism by .” Think about that for a minute. Chuck understands predator/prey! Adult double-crested cormorants are capable of eating more than a pound of fish per day, and in the past have decimated fish population in the eastern end of Lake Ontario. http://fisherynation.com/?s=cormorant

Cormorants are native species. Their numbers are dependent on the fish populations. There is no practical way to permanently reduce their numbers without reducing the fish populations. Cormorants are part of the ecosystem. Schumer’s comments are a combination of wrong and simplistic.

Admad

Methinks he doth protest too much. Mr Hansen (any relation to James) blames my article for things it never said or claimed. My point was that population changes are due to a myriad things, including natural population fluctuations and shifting wind patterns. He missed the point of the first article and he continues with this article. I suggest he gets the feathers out of his eyes before he attacks people.

u.k.(us)

Really?
I thought it just presented facts, and expanded upon your essay.
I ate it up.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Tim Ball ==> I’m sorry if you see this piece as some sort of attack — it certainly isn’t meant to be one. What I say is:

[your piece] didn’t really tell us anything about the birds, their decline, or the true causes of population shifts.

and

Note that while I complained that Dr. Ball’s essay hadn’t supplied data on bird numbers, I find I will do the same.

I had complained in comments — and felt my criticism was somewhat unfair — as your essay wasn’t really about the birds — but the political opportunism of those making the false claims regarding birds and climate change. So I wrote this essay to fill in the data about the birds.
I hope you’ll accept this as my public apology if you feel I have either misrepresented your essay or attacked you personally in any way, as such was not my intention.

Tim,
Kip Hansen has fleshed out your thesis that population changes are due to many things, climate change not being a principle one. Your article and his complement each other.

ECK

Mr. Ball, I don’t think Mr. Hansen has done anything but to flesh out your points w.r.t. different specie habitats. Do not take offense.

You mention Wind Turbines. But it didn’t mention that Green lover Obama gave Wind Farms the ok to continue to kill Bald Eagles and other birds of prey. Obama cares more about his global warming friends then he does about our national bird.But then we also know how Obama feels about America. If Obama had his choice, I bet he would designate the crow as national bird.

Ralph Kramden

I spent last weekend at Surfside Beach, Texas. I have been going there since 1975. As far as I can tell the sea level has not changed and there are just as many birds as there were in 1975. So in my opinion any changes are certainly not noticeable.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Ralph Kramden ==> Surfside Beach, according to NOAA, will have had maybe six inches of Relative Sea Level Rise in the ensuing 40 years. But, looking at maps and pictures, it appears to be a sand bar barrier island — and such as prone to being built (and destroyed) by various storms.

State of Birds gives us a list of birds “in steep decline”. Good. Let us take a look at this alarmism on a bird by bird basis.
One of the birds listed is the scaled quail.
This is a bird that I am familiar with. They hate to fly and they love to run. They are found in the SW states of the US and range from northern Mexico to Kansas and Colorado and from SW Texas to Arizona.
Are they in “steep decline” as claimed by the State of Birds org.?
Hardly seems likely. Their range is wide and sparsely populated by mankind. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies the scaled quail as “least concern” which in their rating system is the opposite pole to the most threatened. Let’s next take a look at the Audobon Society site. No alarms there concerning this quail. I cite from this site: Scaled quail populations fluctuate markedly from one year to the next because of the alternation of drought and occasional wet seasons. In other words, this bird has evolved a mechanism of response to climate
fluctuations. This is what one would expect, given the bird’s habitat. One year sees a “steep decline” and the next El Nino a population explosion. So the question must be asked: are the persons who compile this State of Birds “steep decline” list to be credited with either intelligence or honesty??
Decide for yourself.

vounaki

West Nile virus has had a big impact.

Kip Hansen

Reply to mpainter ==> Scaled Quail, according to both counts — Audubon and USGS — are in decline across most of their range — which is no surprise given the widespread multi-year drought across much of their known distribution. In drought conditions, their populations drop, exactly as you state — and the drought has been going on for several years now. Thus, their concern.

Kip Hansen:
I believe the essential issue has escaped you. There is no cause for concern in regard to the scaled quail whose population fluctuates naturally. Baseless alarmism was the whole point of Dr Tim Ball’s essay. To list this bird as in “steep decline” is nothing but alarmism, and utterly false. Do you subscribe to such practices? No? Then why defend them?
One does not need a population count to know that the scaled quail is on the verge of a population explosion. They got some rain.

Kip Hansen

Reply to mpainter ==> There is no reason for alarmism. I highly suggest looking at the data on the two bird counts, as the scaled quail has been declining since the 1950s — and is currently at very low levels due to drought. Whether or not we, mankind, should be concerned over fluctuating populations of birds (or any other animals) and the possibility that our actions have adversely affected them is a philosophical question.
For example, the osprey declined sharply when standing dead trees along waterways were cut down for firewood, safety and aesthetic reasons, denying the ospreys of their nesting sites. Ospreys had happily adapted to power and telephone poles as alternate sites — wreaking havoc. Having power and telephone utilities provide poles with nesting platforms brought the osprey back to previous population levels.
For aridland birds, like the scaled quail, the State of the Birds quite correctly points out that: “Long-term habitat degradation from unsustainable land use, invasions of non-native grasses, and encroachment by trees and shrubs also play significant (and under-appreciated) roles in the decline.” Oil land development and overgrazing (usually blamed on the Bureau of Land Management ) are also degrading habitat. Note that habitat, not climate change, is the apparent driver — habitat includes drought.

High Treason

“Climate change” is just a meaningless pair of words. The implication via propaganda is the evil (that it is man-made)part of the junk science. It is quite possible that the indiscriminate bird manglers(wind farms) have something to do with it.

KevinK

Kip, very nice work thanks.
As a long time amateur ornithologist (with a life list close to 2000) I can attest to the changes in bird population that I observe around me. As Upstate New York has reverted back to forests (from earlier farmland and harvested forest land) some “grassland” species are harder to see in the wild (upland sandpiper) and other “forest” species are easier to see (ravens). But I am sure the birds are quite adept at figuring out just where they like to be.
Interesting historical tidbit; back 100 plus years ago there was a tradition where folks went out after their Christmas dinner and found it good sport to blast every bird they saw with a shotgun, kind of a special hunting exercise. The Audubon Society “back in the day” thought it might be more “gentle” to just count the birds instead of blasting them into pieces. And that is the origin of the Christmas Day Bird Count. Might just be the last useful thing the Audubon society accomplished (I was a member for many years so I can opine about their accompishments).
Cheers, Kevin.

u.k.(us)

Interesting.
Cheers back at ya.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Kevin ==> Thank you for your local observations — my family and I lived for a few years in the Mohawk River valley of New York.
Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is problematic for the very reason of its date — Christmas, early winter– and must be used with caution. The USGS Breeding Bird Survey is much more scientific, and yet they wisely issue grave warnings about its use and interpretation.

PaulH

I maintain bird feeders in my back yard, and I chase any and all cats that wander onto my property. JUst doing my part. 😉

Kip Hansen

Reply to PaulH ==> Thank you for chipping in for the birds. Don’t get me started on free-roaming cats….
On the cats issue, I admit that our family has had cats, and due to our semi-rural homes, always let them roam, particularly in our barns. In one location, they wiped out all the voles from the lawn — thank you cats — but eliminated the chipmunk population — bad cats! After reading the best of this century’s cat vs. bird studies, I would not allow my cats to roam.

I’ve taken in five stray cats over the past decade. They are now indoor only, well fed, and will hide if the door to the outside is opened – absolutely no desire to go outside again. I’ve put up bird feeders so they can watch the birds. Cardinals and woodpeckers have nested in my yard, and a variety of other birds visit the feeders. BTW, the cats clearly approve of the use of fossil fuels to keep their environment cozy.

jtom,
Good for you. We’ve taken in strays too.
Cats tend to improve the bird and rodent populations by eliminating the ones that aren’t paying attention, or the old and sick ones. But a windmill, for instance, or a solar mirror farm, is something outside of their evolutionary experience. Those wipe out even the healthiest animals.
Paul H:
If you chase off stray or feral cats, others will fill in their territory. The way to handle the situation is to call one of the many volunteer groups that will trap the cat(s), get them fixed so they don’t reproduce, get shots and a flea treatment, and release them in the same territory. That keeps out other strays, and it breaks the breeding cycle.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Outdoor Cat Lovers and advocates of Neutering Feral Cats ==> This is a controversial subject, highly dependent on one’s emotional/philosophical attitudes about cats in general. I sympathize with both viewpoints.
The main threat from free-roaming acts, whether pets or feral, is not really their attacks on birds at bird feeders or those ground feeding on insects, but rather predation of nestlings of low- and ground-nesting species. Owners almost never see the results of these actions, but song bird numbers drop precipitously in urban and semi-rural areas where free-roaming acts are common.
IMO, keeping cats indoors or restricting them to one’s yard (difficult to impossible) is a reasonable, pragmatic solution.

Truthseeker

What about Wind Turbines and the losses to birds that follow the wind currents in a migratory sense and the raptors that see the corpses created by the wind turbines as an easy meal and become casualties themselves?

Khwarizmi

“Rainbow lorikeets are bucking the trend. While humans opt for the city-to-country seachange, these rowdy parrots are choosing the big smoke. And they’re loving it.
The flashy lorikeets are moving into Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra in greater numbers than ever before – well adapted, it seems, to the urban lifestyle.
[…]
The puzzle is of particular interest in Melbourne because for decades the bird disappeared from the city.”
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/18/1082226635772.html

Kip Hansen

Reply to Khwarizmi ==> Very good local example. I suspect a chaotic element in the population growth of this species in this region — as these cities did not spring up overnight. Some slight change in “initial conditions” of their growth factor–“r”– has kicked in a population boom — see the graph in my essay on chaotic population dynamics.

beng

There was something on TV about a parakeet-like tropical bird that had somehow established a growing population on Long Island near NYC. Escaped pet-birds, IIRC.

Gary Pearse

Excellent read. I also enjoyed Tim Ball’s article, too. I don’t believe there can be a large number of people who don’t like birds. Just reading the list of these wondrous creatures brings a warm feeling to the heart. Although city born and raised (ancestors prairie homesteaders), I raised my large family on a small farm, mainly to keep some kind of control on their movements in a risky urban environment – a school bus was needed to get them to and from school. We took about 3 years to learn mixed farming – dairy cow, flock of sheep, chickens, ducks, a horse, rabbits, pigs, field corn, and truck garden. Now, I had some barn cats who didn’t stray too far because the mice hunt seemed infinite. Mice in numbers can eat a lot of hay in a long Ontario winter. The only bird loss I was aware of was that of a foolish pigeon who decided to nest on a sill of the barn and lost its fledglings to our mousers. We had several eastern bluebirds around, which I was told are rare, some eastern meadowlarks in a grassy field next door to ours that the topsoil had been stripped off and beautiful mourning doves that put on a bit of a ballet stretching exercise in the mating season.
I think the horrible deaths by windmill and the flaming deaths from tower solar plants will ultimately be the biggest factor in deaths of birds if this climate change mitigation nonsense continues much longer. I understand that a significant proportion of the population of whooping cranes have been recently chopped down by Texas windmills, after all the dedicated work to revive this species >40 years ago.
I’m surprised that Audubon would not know about the population dynamics you describe. Are there many honest people left in the environmental field?

Kip Hansen

Reply to Gary Pearse ==> I am appalled by the deaths of the cranes by windmill. The cranes are so very close to the edge of extinction. Personally, I doubt that a population so reduced will make a viable comeback, even with substantial human effort. That even one crane was killed is a disaster.
Knowing about population dynamics and being able to apply it to even one bird species are two quite different things. Even just determining the causes and effects of bird population changes that are easy to see requires years of careful work — much of it guess work. The Passenger Pigeon is an example of the vagaries of population dynamics. Quoting the Wiki: “Some reduction in numbers [from possibly billions] occurred from habitat loss when European settlement led to mass deforestation. Next, pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive and mechanized scale. A slow decline between about 1800 and 1870 was followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890“. That last catastrophic decline was probably chaotic in nature.
In cases where nesting or wintering habitat have been greatly reduced — or migratory path habitats reduced — the first best guess is to try to restore habitat — a perfectly valid approach. But, as in the case of the Eastern Meadowlark — which I discuss (to which one commenter adds local knowledge) — we can’t just clear cut woods and turn them back into farms for the benefit of the Meadowlark.

Kip,
Thanks for an informative article. I’ve been involved in the Audubon Christmas Counts (as participant and compiler), breeding bird atlases, plus the spring and fall counts for many decades. For twenty years, 1968-1988, I was in the Mohawk region, Schenectady, maybe close to you. For the past decade at least, the alarm over climate change has impacted traditional conservation and habitat preservation measures in a negative way. When causes of real problems are misidentified, the real real causes are often neglected.
Habitat loss and degradation are and have always been the principle reason birds are threatened, with very few exceptions (passenger pigeon, dodo, etc.). Global warming/climate change is a very minor problem; global warming/climate change hype and alarm is a much greater problem because it results in neglect of real causes. Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic are among the groups I use to support that are caught up in this unscientific, hysterical, false blame of global warming/climate change.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Doug Allen ==> I quite agree with your analysis….I think they just get caught up in it as it adds “urgency” to their cause. I personally think that sensible, pragmatic conservation efforts are positive and support them with my charity dollars.

When I started getting distracted by the Industrial Wind Turbine proliferation in New Hampshire, I checked the NH Audubon and national sites to see what they had to say. While I understand that they’re trying to turn in to mini-Nature Conservancies, I was amazed that both were neutral to pro wind power. This was quite surprising given that I’ve seen the uproar in Massachusetts decades ago about culling the seagull (maritime flying rats) population that was displacing a piping plover colony. Save the birds, even if they’re the wrong ones.
I eventually came across the American Bird Conservancy. They appear to have filled the niche abandoned by Audubon.
http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/wind_developments.html

Nature Conservancy remains a good choice for our conservation dollars. Almost every area has local and regional conservation efforts (which often partner with Nature Conservancy) that our desire our support.

Oops that deserve our support (not desire, although that’s true too)

Some people blame feral cats for most of the bird deaths. E.g. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/feral-cats-kill-billions-of-small-critters-each-year-7814590/?no-ist
Other articles I read at the time included wild cats (e.g. bobcats, lynxes, etc.).
I don’t think feral cats are much of a problem in New Hampshire – the coyotes and fishers do them in pretty quickly.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Ric Werme ==> Yes, I mentioned on another site that cats are prey for coyotes in my part of NY State. Unfortunately, pet kitties will kill (and sometimes eat) anything that is small and moves — and raiding song bird nests is a favorite game for them — them little birdies keep cheep-cheep-cheeping calling in the cats.

“One can clearly see NY City, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Boston, Providence, Albany, etc. The rest is forest and mostly abandoned farmland.”
Wrong. For reference, the finger lake region is mainly farmland and vineyards, as anyone who lives there knows. Compare that green to the green in the Adirondacks, which is forest.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Pippen Kool ==> The Fingerlakes Region has what I refer to as gentle farms. Farms interspersed with sections of woodland–Western NY State much more active farming than the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.
You are right that I mis-spoke with this bit “mostly abandoned farmland” — I should have said “farmland, much of which is being abandoned each year — to the tune of 100,000s of acres returning to woodland.”
Thanks for catching that.

Cam_S

My cat brings home starlings, which are an invasive species in North America.
I always give him a pat, and say “Good cat! Go, get another one.”

A minor quibble. It is perhaps a stretch to conclude as follows. from the chart shown:
notice that birds are actually increasing. Green, positive change, far outweighs declines.
Obviously that would depend on the initial populations in each bracket (ie, a 20% increase in a region where the original consisted of 1% of the total population is a minimal increase).
But, it is very obvious that habitat changes and introduced feral predators are the main issue.

markl

Thanks for the essay. It’s unfortunate that one must dissect the truth from all articles that even mention climate change as a factor in . For some reason only cats were mentioned as predators but I’m guessing other birds and animals kill more birds than cats. I’m curious where the estimations came from in the “Other Drivers….” chart. A nit…..”house cats” in the Summary should have just said “cats” as house cats can not be feral.

markl

Delete “in” from the end of the second sentence. (How’d that get there?)

Kip Hansen

Reply to markl ==> I concede that “Housecats (pets and feral) have a disproportionately large negative effect….” could/should have read “Domestic cats (pets and feral)…..” Good point.

markl

“should have read “Domestic cats (pets and feral)…..” How about …Cats (domestic and feral). Or just cat? Saying domestic cat and pet is redundant. No?

James Strom

Kip Hansen mentioned the golden-winged warbler. A comparable bird is the Kirtland’s warbler. Both prefer to nest in plots of small trees that I would call saplings, and both are under pressure. Kirtland’s warbler may be the more rare as it breeds pretty much only in Michigan. However, that state is adding habitat by clearing out substantial swaths of mature trees from state forests, and Kirtland’s nesting range has been expanding in recent years, which is welcome news, at least to me.
However, increasing the breeding habitat for one of these species necessarily takes habitat away from birds which may prefer mature trees. It may take years to know whether the recovery program creates threats to other species. That’s the way it can be with many green programs. Every square meter of land devoted to solar cells is an area not devoted to photosynthesis, and every acre devoted to corn for fuel is an acre which cannot be reserved for wilderness. In fact it is likely that expansion of lands devoted to biofuels has resulted in the plowing of wilderness areas or at least fallow areas. It is not clear whether the relative benefits of some of these efforts have been carefully and thoroughly established.

Kip Hansen

Reply to James Strom ==> Mankind’s attempts at manipulating Nature often have more unintended negative effects than positive effects — primarily, I believe, because we ignore the fact that populations operate on non-linear chaotic dynamics. Thus, like in Yellowstone Park where wolves were once manipulated to disastrous effect, we make well-intended changes to initial conditions that inadvertently affect dozens of populations in ways we could not have predicted.

Steve P

Cats are real killers. The success of the feline form is reflected in the number of species, large to small, with variations on the basic cat technique of sneak up and pounce. Some domestic cats are fed by several households, but they hunt anyway. You might as well ask a fish not to swim.
If you like birds, don’t get a cat. If you have a cat, get it spayed, and keep it confined.
I suspect dogs too have some impact on the nesting success of ground-nesting birds like the Bobwhite, but dogs don’t register on the bird mortality scorecard, even though there are over 70 million of the beasts in the USA, and a like number of cats.
Having said that. I’d much rather spend time around a cat than a dog. I can’t understand why people want dogs, in the first place, but these days, people take their dogs everywhere, even shopping.
Disgusting thought warning!–>Bear in mind, please, that a dog is a filthy animal that not only rolls in poop, but consumes it too.
Other than that, I guess it’s good to have a dog with you when you’re shopping, just in case you might need a dog. Or driving, where dogs are even more useful. It used to be that dogs chased cars, but now they ride around in the front seat.
Now a dog may be running all over the place with its tongue hanging out, but a cat will stop, sit down, and think about what it’s going to do next. They are smooth and graceful in their movements, with striking eyes, and they would eat you in a second, if only they were bigger.
I see a jet black cat in the neighborhood, golden eyed and shiny, moving around with that slow, careful meticulous, elegant pussy cat grace. Most of the time. Occasionally, the cat’s tail is fluffed, fur erect, and it is moving around faster, more erratically as if charged by some unknown force, yowling and swinging its rear end around in front of itself as it races around wildly in some kind of feline frenzy.
I see it too, calm and thorough, walking on branches 15 feet up, looking for nests.

Cat lovers, or at least the ones who educate themselves about cats, keep them indoor-only for
another good reason: the life expectancy of an indoor cat is fifteen years, outdoor cat is five years. So much for the ‘goodness’ of nature.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Jtom ==> Good advice, with which I agree 100% — indoors or at least in one’s own yard to limit their hunting.

Truthseeker

“Disgusting thought warning!–>Bear in mind, please, that a dog is a filthy animal that not only rolls in poop, but consumes it too. ”
This is not a problem with the dog, it is a problem with the owner. Such unwanted behaviours can be easily corrected. However there is a specific breed of dog raised in Korea that is deliberately feed fecal matter and the meat is used for medicinal purposes, just to take the thought to the next lower level …

asybot

If we did not have cats ,we’d be run over by mice and voles, we still have birds, they are just more careful.

speaking of feral and stray cats, of which I disapprove strongly while recognizing my own little hypocrisy ( farm folks; cats all over the place). Since the Wisconsin DNR (or the Communists…among us barroom biologists, there are firm opinions) reintroduced the fisher weasel into N. Wisconsin, the feral cat population seems to have collapsed (okay, okay, correlation is not causation!). Coyotes are also, I suspect, involved in the feral cat control program.

John M. Ware

We have a mostly outdoor cat (in warm and mild weather) that becomes an indoor cat for much of the winter. We think she is between 16 and 20 years old. She got a mouse that got into the house a few months ago; she has, over the years, gotten a few voles; but her favorite prey is bunnies. She gets perhaps one a year, which reduces the burgeoning rabbit population by an invisibly small fraction. I have never seen our cat get a bird, and there are few bird carcasses here (again, perhaps one every few years). I did see a bird caught and killed–by a peregrine falcon that sat briefly on our fence, took off, and struck (I believe) a grackle, one of at least a thousand in a flock swooping nearby. We live at the edge of the built-up portion of Mechanicsville, VA, with open farmland a quarter mile to the east; we have lots of birds. Our old cat is the least of the birds’ problems. I can’t vouch for other cats in the area, of course.
I thought the article was excellent.

Right, some predatory birds do fine in cities. Victoria BC has many Coopers Hawks, they are unusually agile fliers so can maneuver among trees. They eat many rats, which I suppose are somewhat populous because of human activities such as garbage.
One house owner noticed that small birds in shrubs outside her front windows would suddenly move, eventually she noticed a Coopers Hawk sitting in a tree nearby. (I don’t remember if the birds went into the middle of the shrubs or somewhere else to avoid the hawk.)

Paul Coppin

The very diversity of birds (and other families) is both good news and bad news – it leads to aggregates of species that are niche-locked, ie, evolutionary limited to narrow habitat or food choices (amongst other things). These will always be the labile species, They come, they go, evermore has it been and will be. Feral cats are a particular problem in urban environments especially, both due to density of cats and paucity of range for many species that do (did) best in mixed forest/field/wetland environments. While feral cats are plentiful in rural areas, its unlikely they are major stressors on most dickie bird species in those areas. Where allowed to roam as wild, tabbies behave pretty much like their bigger cousins – territorial loners and all.
Some years ago, as part of a bigger project, we used to receive carcasses of fur-bearing animals trapped from rural areas with a lot of mixed deciduous/oldfield/cropped countryside. The sets were primarily for fox, coyote, coon, muskrat. For every 50-75 carcasses or so, we’d get a feral cat. These were rarely your typical domestic shorthair- they might have started out that way, but these were generally big, tough, well travelled felines, mostly males as I recall. They would have put pressure on ground birds mostly, but no more so than the rest of the small carnivores. In this habitat, they niche filled the space vacated by bobcat and lynx (to a lesser degree), as those species moved away from suburbanization.
In the city, the dynamics of medium size mammals is all messed up, due to habitat and human behavioral issues. A new “natural” population dynamic is at play, which is hard on birds. Habitat and food source loss, increased density of predators both of adults and nests (don’t overlook raccoons and squirrels as egg-suckers. Raccoons are a big issue for birds in cities). One good thing birds have going for them is a high (generally) fecundity adaptiveness – many species regulate clutch sizes very efficiently in response to pressure.
Climate change is the least of birds’ worries (wings, remember?) they can and will go where its good. Habitat once they get to where they’re going is a much bigger deal.

Good long essay, thankyou in principle for being comprehensive and fair.
You’ve provided good information on the difficulty of counting birds (I noted some in Tim Balls’ thread, another question is whether the volunteer bird watches wade into swamps and thickets in the snow, yet another is whether they see the hummingbirds hiding in dense shrubs).
And I’m chuckling about Ospreys. At CFB Esquimalt (Canadian navy Pacific fleet base) they nested on the mast of an inactive ship. Since that ship was to be scrapped, the navy made a good pole and moved their nest to it. That was fine for a few years but then one spring they made a nest on a nearby lamp pole (probably had a flat cover over the light to prevent light from going up into the eyes of helicopter pilots).
But it wasn’t a suitable structure or location. Navy personal looked into their previous nest and discovered much grass growing, so they removed it.
As the lamp pole had a security camera above the light they aimed it at the nest and could see an egg. They moved it to the cleaned out nest, the birds accepted that, and life at the base goes on.
Drive Trans-Canada 1 east of Kamloops BC and you’ll see large nests on power towers along the river. And on Highway 99 south of Vancouver BC abeam Mud Bay. Many power poles and big towers have enough structure that nests can be built, such as crossbars on large poles or pairs, I don’t have perspective on how much risk there is to the birds and power reliability, they have to dodge wires of course but they have to dodge branches of trees.

Note too that populations move to get food, that may be related to habitat but also regional climate variation, critters are totally dumb. (Though snowy owls are Darwin Candidates – too focused on lemmings, so every few years when lemming population drops they fly from the tundra in northern Canada to areas of SW BC/NW WA that look somewhat similar, where they eat rodents such as voles. That’s a huge energy expenditure.)
It is well documented that creatures move (the publicized case of a big caribou herd in northern Canada, of fish (Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon) – wouldn’t birds do that?
Then there’s the slice and dice categorization, but sub-species mingle at edges of areas and other reasons (Great Blue Heron populations in SW and SE BC are mingling, I have no idea why but wintering on the coast saves the long commute south that the SE BC population traditionally does to escape freezing. And such herons find winter food in farmer’s fields – rodents, I do not know what they did centuries ago.)

Erps, I meant that critters are _not_ totally dumb.
(There is often an assumption that every species has to be rescued. Some individuals keep the species going by being mavericks – for example, about 10% of gray whales in the eastern Pacific do not depend on the variable ice coverage in the Bering sea being clear enough to get food.)
As for habitat loss due growing forests, if I understood correctly that it is a trend, that would mean that bird populations were high due human activity.
There was an interesting phenomenon in SW BC and NW WA centuries ago, of tribal people increasing population of animals and birds by creating meadows in forests. That gave more “interface” area where shrubs grow – mature forest has little shelter and food. (Deer were among the animals, they like leaves.) The remains of their efforts are semi-worshipped today as “Garry Oak Meadows” (south of that artificial line on pieces of paper they are called “White Oak”, growing through WA and OR, BC is the northern limit of their range).
Note that houses on sizeable lots will have many shrubs where small birds feed on the berries, as well as fruit trees and large conifers to nest in. (And hummingbirds like the hedge “cedars” (actually in the cypress/juniper family) because they have dense foliage but space near the trunk (the needles die there). It provides shelter from wind – one species has started wintering in the Victoria BC area.) Houses may have trees large enough for crows to nest in, but not larger birds.
Trees provide height to reduce access by ground animals, though the parks board in Vancouver BC had to install shields on tree trunks to keep raccoons out of heron nests. (Speaking of tolerating humans, they nest beside tennis courts and offices, perhaps because there is less risk form marauding eagles – herons become accustomed to humans.)
So I ask a question about cat alarmists – are the birds that cats kill populous because of the planted shrubs? (I’ll just leave the question out there for anyone who wants to get into the cat fight, I don’t.)

“In the Gulf states, as everywhere else, sea level rise means the change of the sea level compared to the adjacent land – and in the vast delta areas the land is subsiding (“sinking”) as the sea slowly rises. NOAA’s Tides and Currents Sea Level Trends map shows the story.”
Um – the collection of government data at http://www.psmsl.org shows that some locations are actually sinking, such as on the Strait of Georgia in B.C. Canada, while some are rising.
Some people point to earth crust plates tilting as reasons for varying amount of sea level rise in different regions.
Since sea level is only rising less than 3 mm/year, as it has been for a century or two, how can anyone claim a trend strong enough to require building more dikes/seawalls?
I suggest the biggest motivation has been reducing risk of a one-in-X-years event. Places like Richmond BC are vulnerable.

Kip Hansen

Reply to Keith Sketchley ==> I am not exactly sure what you mean here — but there are places in the world where relative sea level is dropping — I found one tide gauge in the Strait of Georgia that reports this. In order to understand this whole topic — one needs to know if the land itself is rising or falling.
For instance, the land along the Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, from about Boston, MA to Newport, VA is sinking due to GIA (glacial isostatic adjustment) — the land rising due to relief from the weight of the last Ice Age’s glaciers — for the Eastern US seaboard the effect is that as Canada rising up, the Eastern seaboard goes down with the fulcrum or hinge at about Boston.
NOAA’s NGS has a program CORS that uses continuously operating GPS units to measure the rise and fall of the land itself in many places.
The Battery, at the south end of Manhattan Island in NY, has sunk about 4.5 inches in the last 50 years — add to that an absolute rise in water level of 1.5 inches has given the Battery an apparent 6 inch rise in Relative Sea Level.
Relative Sea Level is the ONLY thing (about sea level rise) important to people — what’s the High Tide Line at the edge of my city? — will it come higher in the future? — by how much? Is my area/city/county prone to dangerously high storm surges that might be created by big future storms? (Coastal areas of the Carolinas suffer in this way — Hurricane Sandy’s effects in NY City were [almost] all related to storm surge).
You are right that sea walls will not probably affect shore birds — the sea walls will be built above the beaches to protect human homes, condos, roads.

Sorry Kip, I spoke unclearly there. Yes, I meant a location on the Strait of Georgia shows lower sea level. Looking at Port Townsend WA and at the far NW corner of the Olympic Peninsula suggests a crustal plate is tilting. (That’s earthquake country.) There may other effects, such as the suggestion that land behind dikes rises a bit due no weight of water on it – early explorers’ maps of Richmond BC show scattered islands. (PSMSL’s search function doesn’t work for me these days so I can’t review it again.)
I agree that what matters to people in a specific location is sea level rise at their location. It is important to address the risk of rise, and the risks of short-term rise due severe storms, not flap around reducing CO2 emissions. (People say that much of NYC failed to address risks after the 1962 storm, so suffered from Sandy. One hospital tried to, but didn’t think it through – they put backup power up higher but the switchover equipment was down low, oops!)
I’ll also note that some areas are just sandbars, a whole line of them on the mid to south east coast of the US, a town in central FL is on one (Florence or nearby), IIRC Cape Canaveral is one. I’ve noted that the Outer Banks where the Wright Brothers first flew has changed – much more vegetation than in their day, I don’t know why.
As for where dikes go relative to bird habitat, I don’t know much. IIRC the shore outside the dikes in Richmond on the east side of the Strait of Georgia is fairly grassy in summer, might be nests out there but there are areas not far away (such as Point Gray and Tsawwassen, plus the Fraser River shores and a whole marshy area in Ladner and the Reifel refuge in Ladner) that may be much more suitable, but almost underwater in December with high tides and strong wind from the west.

George

It is a tangent to this discussion and narrated by of all people, George Moonbat. But this does show what changes can make major impacts. It makes sense to me, hence I think they may wave this flow of effects essentially right. http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/how-wolves-change-rivers/
Climate change not found, which surprised me.

Kip Hansen

Reply to George ==> GM is a wee bit over dramatic in this piece, but it makes good television. Like all popularizations of science, it stretches and transforms reality a bit to suit the purposes of the authors and to make it “sexier” — a better sell.
The history of the attempts of mankind to manipulate the wildlife in Yellowstone Park — and their many devastating unintended effects — is the subject of whole books — interesting as anything you’re liable to read in environmental science classes. See for reference
“Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America’s First National Park” by Alston Chase (1987)
This presentation by Michael Crichton touches on the issue. (the Crichton speech begins after the introduction).

Yes, terrestrial bird population changes in what is now the eastern half of the US, are due to a variety of things, including the “warming” of the climate during the early years, …. the 18th and 19th Century.
If one knew what the terrestrial bird population count was for the year 1700, then I am pretty sure that many to most of said species would, … by today’s standards, ….. be considered “endangered”. “Endangered”, simply because favorable habitat and adequate food sources did not exist in sufficient quantities to sustain large populations of the different species. One exception was the woodlands or forest dwelling Passenger Pigeon which, up to and including most of the 19th Century, is estimated to have accounted for more than ¼ of all birds in North America.
But, as the post-LIA climate “warmed” and European immigration into NA increased exponentially, so did the “clearing” of the forest lands for the building of houses, …. with chimneys, ….. the planting of gardens, the planting of field crops and the pasturing of livestock, all for the purpose of a “food source” for said immigrants.
Also, the aforesaid changes to the environment “jump started” an exponential increase in terrestrial bird populations because said “changes” greatly increased the amount of favorable habitat and adequate food sources of sufficient quantities to sustain said increases in bird populations.
An increase in favorable habitat and adequate food sources “prompts” an increase in “food scavenging” bird populations. An increase in “food scavenging” bird populations “prompts” an increase in the populations of the predator birds of said “food scavenging” birds.
But then “the pendulum” started its swing back in the opposite direction during the early to mid 20th Century due to better and/or enhanced food-crop harvesting practices and equipment, …. the demise of the “family farms and orchards”, ….. as well as the demise of the “home gardener”. The bird populations began suffering the loss of favorable habitat and/or adequate food sources. Harvesting methods now days …. leave little to no food left in the gardens and fields for wildlife to eat.
Chimney Swifts, House Wrens, Eastern Meadow Larks, Field Sparrow, etc., …. didn’t get their names because they inhabited the forests and woodlands of the eastern US.
The immigrants givith, .. and the descendents of immigrants takeith away.

The fact is that if human can’t do a good stewardship on Earth, human will become refugees soon, migrating like other co-inhabitants, regardless you prefer to call it “habitat change” or “climate change”.

Relax, global warming is over and the ice age cometh. Your grandchildren will thank you for all the carbon you oxidized.

John

Does this mean the pictures I’ve take of the American Wigeon will become valuable?
All that aside, it looks like “nature” is doing “her” thing.

Owen in GA

So aridland birds are in real trouble, so to help we set up large scale solar plants so they can become “streamers”. That is a good way to help the birds out. [I’m still looking for that sarcasm font]