Claim: Tropical Birds will Fail to Adapt to Global Warming

Rainbow Lorikeets
Beautiful Rainbow Lorikeets frolicking in my garden (youtube video)

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Birds were amongst the most successful survivors of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event which wiped out the dinosaurs, but researchers claim they won’t be able to cope with the ferocious 1-2C / century pace of the current warming period.

Past climate change pushed birds from the northern hemisphere to the tropics

by  University of Cambridge
JUNE 10, 2019

The researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, applied climate and ecological modelling to illustrate how the distribution of major bird groups is linked to climate change over millions of years. However, while past climate change often occurred slowly enough to allow species to adapt or shift habitats, current rates of climate change may be too fast for many species, putting them at risk of extinction. The results are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Palaeontologists have documented long-term links between climate and the geographic distributions of major bird groups, but the computer models needed to quantify this link had not been applied to this question until now,” said Dr. Daniel Field from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, the paper’s co-lead author.

For the current study, the researchers looked at ten bird groups currently limited to the tropics, predominantly in areas that were once part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana (Africa, South America and Australasia). However, early fossil representatives of each of these groups have been found on northern continents, well outside their current ranges.

Read more:

The abstract of the study;

Climatic shifts drove major contractions in avian latitudinal distributions throughout the Cenozoic

Erin E. Saupe, Alexander Farnsworth, Daniel J. Lunt, Navjit Sagoo, Karen V. Pham, and Daniel J. Field

Many higher level avian clades are restricted to Earth’s lower latitudes, leading to historical biogeographic reconstructions favoring a Gondwanan origin of crown birds and numerous deep subclades. However, several such “tropical-restricted” clades (TRCs) are represented by stem-lineage fossils well outside the ranges of their closest living relatives, often on northern continents. To assess the drivers of these geographic disjunctions, we combined ecological niche modeling, paleoclimate models, and the early Cenozoic fossil record to examine the influence of climatic change on avian geographic distributions over the last ∼56 million years. By modeling the distribution of suitable habitable area through time, we illustrate that most Paleogene fossil-bearing localities would have been suitable for occupancy by extant TRC representatives when their stem-lineage fossils were deposited. Potentially suitable habitat for these TRCs is inferred to have become progressively restricted toward the tropics throughout the Cenozoic, culminating in relatively narrow circumtropical distributions in the present day. Our results are consistent with coarse-scale niche conservatism at the clade level and support a scenario whereby climate change over geological timescales has largely dictated the geographic distributions of many major avian clades. The distinctive modern bias toward high avian diversity at tropical latitudes for most hierarchical taxonomic levels may therefore represent a relatively recent phenomenon, overprinting a complex biogeographic history of dramatic geographic range shifts driven by Earth’s changing climate, variable persistence, and intercontinental dispersal. Earth’s current climatic trajectory portends a return to a megathermal state, which may dramatically influence the geographic distributions of many range-restricted extant clades.

Read more (paywalled):

Unfortunately the full study is paywalled, but I think we get the idea.

Frankly I don’t buy it. Whatever we’re doing to the climate, the impact of a gigantic meteor which wiped out pretty almost every animal over 55lb probably produced a more abrupt change to global habitats.

Other more recent climate shifts such as the Toba Eruption 75,000 years ago, which may have caused a volcanic winter, were likely a little more abrupt than anything which has occurred in the last few centuries.

I live on the edge of the tropics, I see shifts in bird populations every year – sometimes a few extreme tropics species turn up, then disappear the next year. Sometimes we see the occasional cold climate seagull, but they never stick around.

My point is, birds are always probing the edge of their range. A claim that birds can’t adapt fast enough to survive our gradual modern warming in my opinion is utterly implausible.


87 thoughts on “Claim: Tropical Birds will Fail to Adapt to Global Warming

  1. We live in Kent, England.

    A few decades ago some pet Parakeets were released and probably expected to die.

    There are now flocks of the things, having survived the worst winter most people can recall in 2009/10.

    They are seen as far north as Glasgow which is consistently some 5C colder than Kent.

    So why should birds bother with a variation of 1.5C?

    • Do I understand correctly that past Climate Changes pushed birds from a too-hot North to a temperate tropical zone?

      Does whisky help?

      • My (sober) thought as well. The Researchers (soon to be called “scientists”) abstract claims that a majority of bird species have been pushed (implied) to the tropics from more temperate climate zones as a “recent phenomenon” in reaction to climate change (implied). So … the birds LIKE global warming? LIKE the sweltering temperatures of the equatorial tropics? THRIVED in the God-awful heat of the tropics. Next, they’ll be telling us mankind developed changes in melanin to cope with the climate of the tropics.

        All I see from this “research”, by Researchers (soon to be called “scientists”) is some paleontologist students jumping on the global warming gravy train. Now THAT, my friends is the REAL migratory habit caused by “climate change” … Entire Departments of unrelated “studies” … ahem! … migrating to the lucrative fields of CAGW. Their feathers have even transformed into brightly colored displays of comical preening.

        • On a more somber note, every bird alive today WILL be dead before the end of this century. Is there any way to stem the tide of this mass extinction? Think of those little Bird Brains!!/sarc

    • There are a few knocking around Burton-on-Trent as well, HotScot, which is what, 100, 150 miles north of you?

      As Eric says birds, like most species, have an eye to the main chance and if they are survivors they will survive. If they can’t adapt to a 1° rise in temperature over 100 or so generations too bad.

      I’ve often wondered where blue tits learnt the trick of pecking through the tops of milk bottles to get at the cream. And why there still seem to be plenty of them (certainly around here) now that milk bottles are a thing of the past. If “scientists” could only get their heads out of their computers (or wherever else) and go out into the real world perhaps they would less often make fools of themselves!

    • Birds’ problem is that they have birds’ brains – they simply haven’t got the ability to understand the terrible consequences that are so obvious to clever creatures like us who can understand computer-generated “logic”. Lucky for them – they would surely despair and panic if they did understand.

  2. It’s only yesterday I was talking to a couple of Rainbow Lorikeets in Central Queensland, Australia..
    The didn’t comment on the weather, but they were both dressed in garbadine overcoats.

    • We have masses of rainbow lorikeets in our garden. They congregate around the bird bath on our deck. They are very enthusiastic bathers. Lovely to watch. It was a very cold day and the temp only got up to around 15 or 16C. We also have masses of rainbow lorikeets in summer when the temp is around 28 to 35C. The temperature change doesn’t seem to worry them. They hang around in the trees below our deck (we’re on a steep block) and the temperature change doesn’t affect their activity level.
      Our cats have got very used to them. It’s TV for cats.

  3. There are multiple species of nominally tropical birds, like parrots, having gone feral in the US. As if the birds will not either tolerate different temperatures, or migrate north?

  4. 1) Even the IPCC admits that there will be very little warming any place where there’s a lot of water in the air.
    2) The normal pattern for all species, including birds, is for the young to spread out looking for unoccupied territory. If they go to far north or south, then they won’t be successful in breeding.
    3) Anyone who thinks birds can’t fly a hundred miles or so in 100 years is a nut case.

    • Mark,

      Correct. The humid tropics vary very little in temperature as the climate changes due to epavorative cooling. Furthermore, the paper is based on climate modeling and, hence, is rubbish.

      I recall reading a paper a number of years ago in which the author(s) claimed certain species of birds were migrating north in North America at a rate of X kilometers (can’t remember the number) per decade due to global warming. Surprise, birds can fly.

      • It has more to do with the fact that water vapor overlaps and swamps most of the IR bands that CO2 is capable of absorbing. The result is there is very little IR energy left for CO2 to absorb.

        • Perhaps the so far nonexistent permanent “hot spot” that was supposed to appear in the upper troposphere over the tropics due to “climate change” will eventually manifest and dip down and fry them.

  5. As has been said before, Climate scientists and prostitutes do the same thing, but at least prostitutes provide a desired service. Stop the climate lies.

    • Unfortunately Climate “Scientists” also provide a desired service. It’s just a question of who desires it. And who might that be? Follow the money.

      Any resemblance between between the climate scam and honest whoring is, however, purely coincidental.

      • A subtle difference here, prostitutes are at least honest (so I understand ;-))! I have read that prostitutes do have standards to which they will not deviate, (no pun intended!)

  6. Being highly mobile, birds probably have an ability to adapt to shifting climate zones better than most animals.

    • Some generalist birds can and do but many are specialists and they can only survive if their habitat does.
      At 1-2 degrees per century is way too fast for their habitat.

      • You’ve never spent any time in nature, have you.
        Plants can and do expand their territory a lot faster than that.

        Regardless, you only need to move a few hundreds of miles poleward to compensate for a 1 to 2C increase in temperatures. The extent of any bird’s habitat is already 10s to 100s of times greater than this.

      • Yeah – that was the same bullshit they used to destroy the logging industry in Oregon – ‘save the spotted owl’.

        ‘1-2’ degrees per-century is too much to adapt to. Dear Lord.

  7. The researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, applied climate and ecological modelling


    And hands up anyone that thought that would find ‘differently ‘ once they went looking.

  8. This model business seems to allow all sorts of new paradigms. Just ran across this.

    As to the utility of models, this was written (1997) by someone with a lifetime of working with physical estuarine circulation models believing that they take away time better spent in analysis. He wasn’t against use of models as a “codicil” but this had to do with real data. There was a quote from Stommel (1987. The View of the Sea. Princeton Univ. Press.)—–

    “These models generate such masses of tabular data that they are as much a challenge to understand as the ocean itself. Consequently, the numerical results seldom get the detailed study, interpretation, and explanation they deserve.”

    From the PNAS abstract, must be a new fad. — “The distinctive modern bias toward high avian diversity at tropical latitudes for most hierarchical taxonomic levels may therefore represent a relatively recent phenomenon,….” Always new things, like “megathermal.”

    From an “out of date” book (Pianka, Evolutionary Ecology). “Communities are so complex that it is exceedingly difficult to study them even when relatively little is known. The situation is greatly exacerbated when a lot is known—….” Also “However, the development of sound ecological principles depends heavily on what might be called ‘biological intuition,’ and there is certainly no substitute for a firm foundation in natural history.”

    Go count birds and measure the temperature!

    • I read “megathermal” … and gagged on my coffee.

      However, I cannot WAIT for Steven Spielberg’s next film about the coming cataclysmic “megathermal” extinction event …

  9. Humans are gods, apparently. They can outpace nature on every single account. I wonder why Darwin failed to let us know that humans would be the destruction of evolution and the planet. Surely he saw that coming, right?

    Desperation oozes out of these people….

  10. Let me get this straight, Tropical, as in warm climate around 80 degree F, is going to have difficulty adapting to a 1 or 2 degree change over 100 years? 1 or 2 degrees is a small fraction of the daily variation. If they can’t adapt to a 1 or 2 degree change over 100 years, they would be dying on a daily basis, or even if there is a cloud cover. This is all pure nonsense.
    Birds are modern day dinosaurs, they have survived much worse.
    Here is an entertaining view of the past 600 million year history

    • I’m not sure about this, but my impression (model?) is that the Mexican Eagle (Caracara) has been extending N over the years, mostly in cooler months. There is even an RV park now so named N of San Antonio. It is a scavenger, hangs out with vultures some.

    • The temperature INSIDE my own home fluctuates at least 3 deg. F each day! Ohhhhhhh mammmmaaa … I’m dying! I’m dying! HELP ME! Please! Someone have our government SAVE ME! Better yet … send YOUR $$ directly to Kenji @ 555 Fleece St. Silicon Valley, CA 94000

    • Most of any global warming would take place outside the tropics so the birds would be entering a similar environment to the tropics in a warming world by moving closer to the poles. Their territory would actually expand.

  11. Mark,

    Correct. The humid tropics vary very little in temperature as the climate changes due to epavorative cooling. Furthermore, the paper is based on climate modeling and, hence, is rubbish.

    I recall reading a paper a number of years ago in which the author(s) claimed certain species of birds were migrating north in North America at a rate of X kilometers (can’t remember the number) per decade due to global warming. Surprise, birds can fly.

  12. “birds are always probing the edge of their range.” – EXACTLY!
    In reality, birds, like pretty much all flora and fauna are far more interested in the habitat (and I include quality and quantity of food in that) than a couple of degrees of temperature change here and there. How else could birds that winter in Africa or Central America spend their summers in the Arctic where even average summer temperatures will be of the order of 20C below the wintering temperatures in lower latitudes?
    And as for flora and fauna that exists year-round in places like Fairbanks thus experiencing 6-monthly temperature variations of 70C – well let’s not even get started on that.
    The notion that a temperature change of the order of 1C over 150 years has a significant effect on bird populations is simply and obviously absurd.

    • Ian Magness : “The notion that a temperature change of the order of 1C over 150 years has a significant effect on bird populations is simply and obviously absurd.”

      Indeed! And, since the typical bird’s lifespan is less than 1/10th of that 150 year span, are the birds unable to adapt to 0.1C?

      • A reduction of 2C over 150 years certainly could have an effect on the habitat and range of Canadian Geese. They would need to learn to nest on Summer Ice as the sheets begin their advance

        • – the hundreds of thousands (and that’s probably an under-estimate) of Canada Geese that now live very happily all over the UK wouldn’t…

  13. The only time I think rainbow lorikeets might be vulnerable is when they have been feasting on fermented fruit so have difficulty “walking the line”. They do seem to handle that with a great deal of humour, and I haven’t seen any get run over.
    Must be smarter than the average climate alarmist.

  14. Eric said:
    “Sometimes we see the occasional cold climate seagull, but they never stick around. ”

    I was down to the Virgin Islands, and saw a seagull, and mentioned it to a local. He told me that they show up for a few weeks or a month every year. I could only marvel at this. The local also told me that they will raid the local gardens, eating those fiery Scotch Bonnet peppers right off the vine(!). Yow.
    The seagull (common herring gull) is a temperate species, common on the US eastern seaboard. To get to the V.I., the birds would have to go to Miami, then fly 1100 miles SE along the whole length of the Bahamas. Of course once this is done, they are a temperate species now deep into the tropics.
    Just like any other tourist, I suppose. How do they get around? They fly, just like most of the other tourists. Then they go home, just like…

    Note to avain researchers:
    Birds do not have to adapt to local conditions as they may change.
    They Can Fly!

  15. So – with the addition of extra water, and the presumed expansion of tropical areas, and thus greater habitats – tropical birds won’t be able to adapt.

    That’s like saying I can’t adapt my budget to a raise.

  16. Australia has 828 species of birds and 13 have been recorded as having gone extinct since 1770. There are about 10,000 species of birds in the World. At 8.28% Australia’s population is bigger and more diverse than any other country. Australia stretches from the Tropics to the Antarctic Ocean. There is no restriction on birds and if they are feeling the heat or the cold they quietly relocate to where it suits them. Often this is to the centre of a City where there is free food. The Ibis is a good example of that. Birds are not stupid and do not wait around to be starved, fried, frozen or eaten. Australia was the most important for the evolution of modern birds, with a majority of the world’s species tracing their ancestry here. Birds are not stupid (unlike some people). Australia was the most important continent for the evolution of modern birds, with a majority of the world’s species tracing their ancestry here. If birds feel the heat, they move.

    • There are lots of countries with many more bird species than Australia. Even Papua New Guinea. Australia is about #35 in the World list. Colombia or Peru is first with slightly less than 2,000 species.

      Only one bird has become extinct on the Australian mainland in recent centuries, the Paradise Parrot.

    • “There is no restriction on birds and if they are feeling the heat or the cold they quietly relocate to where it suits them.”

      What about their habitat?

      • There are very few birds that are that specific in their habitat requirements.

        Regardless, the habitat will also be spreading if climate changes.

  17. “…early fossil representatives of each of these groups have been found on northern continents, well outside their current ranges.”

    This finding tells you all you need to know about adaptability of birds. Whatever happened to the settled science that the tropical Ts DON’T change, the warming is largely in polar amplification and intermediate warming in the temperate zones. 65mya today’s temperate zones were much warmer, hence it hosted tropical type birds. When the the temperate zones cooled, the birds moved toward the equator.

    Here is a direct indicator (no models needed) that the Canadian NW Territories enjoyed a California climate 53mya: redwood chunks found at 300m depth in the Ekati diamond mine open pit.

  18. Current definition of Fake News:
    “applied climate and ecological modelling
    “current rates of climate change may be too fast for many species, putting them at risk of extinction”

    • After almost 20 years, CliSci still hasn’t noticed that the world is not warming at the rate of the late 20th Century. You know, the rate that gave us CAGW?

  19. “The beak of the finch”. Forced evolutionary (selective) change to a species’ population can occur over a very short time period. Nature, you so cool.

  20. Every single Heinrich and Dansgaard–Oeschger event of the past 80000 years has produced climate change about 10 times faster than we’re now experiencing and of about 10 times the magnitude. Rates of change were degrees per decade.

    Bond, et al., in (1999) The North Atlantic’s 1-2 kyr Climate Rhythm’ Relation to Heinrich Events, Dansgaard/Oeschger Cycles and the Little Ice Age in “Mechanisms of Global Climate Change at Millennial Time Scales” Peter U. Clark, Robert S. Webb, and Lloyd D. Keigwin, eds

    show that D/O cycles have persisted at lower amplitude throughout the “unusually stable” Holocene climate, with the LIA the most recent cooling event of the cycle.

    They finish this way: “Finally, if we are correct that the 1-2 kyr cycle is a persistent feature of the climate, at least in the North Atlantic, then one conclusion seems inescapable. Independent of any anthropogenic forcing, the North Atlantic’s climate eventually will shift (or in fact may be shifting now) toward the warm phase of the cycle. That shift will be superimposed upon and, therefore, may modulate higher frequency climate variability in the North Atlantic such as the North Atlantic Oscillation. If that is true, efforts to predict future climate trends in the North Atlantic must take into account the nature and origin of the 1-2 kyr climate cycle.

    Honest scientists whose work has been ignored by the consensus climatology poobahs.

    The best that can be said about the current warming is that it’s solved the problem of providing steady jobs for the truly incompetent.

  21. I guess that too many people don’t have faith in evolution, because evolution would ensure species could adapt to a changing environment.

  22. In sweden we see birds fly south every year in autumn, to escape the cold winter.
    We have no idea why, in spring the following year, they come back.

  23. Birds seem to like hotter weather – Brazil has over 1800 recorded and described species, Colombia has over 1900. Of course in the mountains of the Andes the temperatures and climate do vary – but if birds had trouble adapting to hot weather, you would not see them in these numbers in these places. And many birds fly from warm to cold places and back in their migrations with no real problems due to temperature changes AT ALL.

    Any supposed signal of “climate change” or “global warming” caused by Man, is completely overwritten by the noise, the natural variability of the climate and weather from day to day, year to year and decade to decade. The idea that a fraction of a degree change per year, and maybe 1 degree C in the next 100 years, could cause extinctions is not something even a birdbrain could believe!

  24. So…these climate professionals never heard of the Younger Dryas? Now that was sudden!

    Wikipedia: The Younger Dryas was the most recent and longest of several interruptions to the gradual warming of the Earth’s climate since the severe Last Glacial Maximum, c. 27,000 to 24,000 years BP. The change was relatively sudden, taking place in decades, and it resulted in a decline of 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and advances of glaciers and drier conditions, over much of the temperate northern hemisphere.


  25. A good example of completely trivial results being presented as something earth-shaking by maximal use of colorful graphics and climate models.

    Everybody with some knowledge of avian evolution knows about this. Yes, currently tropical birds once had a larger distribution, yes the change to a colder climate in early Oligocene and from middle Miocene onwards caused a retreat from higher latitudes. So what is new? Nothing really.

    And I don’t give much for their “ecological modelling”. It is apparently purely climatological, taking no account of biotic conditions and dispersal barriers which are both of great importance. And their models could certainly use a bit of tweaking. For example Coliidae (mousebirds) are found far outside their modelled range in Africa.

    There is not the slightest hint of any new knowledge. For example of the ten families treated only one (Trogonidae) is found more or less throughout the tropics. All the others are more or less restricted, Todidae is found only in the West Indies, Nyctibiidae, Steatornithidae and Cariamidae only in South America, Musophagidae and Coliidae only in Africa, Leptosomidae only on Madagascar, Podargidae in South Asia and Australasia and Anseranatidae only in Australia. Why is this so, since they were all once more widespread in now temperate zones? I don’t know, and apparently the climate models don’t either.

    However they only touched relatively lightly on the doom-and-gloom aspect:

    “While explicit predictions are beyond the scope of the present work, our conclusions would seem to suggest that climatic changes over the coming decades and centuries may induce major distributional changes across the avian tree of life, as has been suggested recently for corals in the marine realm. The extremely rapid pace of anthropogenic climate change, however, may instead make it more likely that major groups with restricted distributions are driven to extinction in situ. Unraveling the relative likelihood of these outcomes will be an important goal of future work in avian biogeography and macroecology.”

    They might have taken comfort in the fact that nearly every existing bird species has survived about 50 glaciations and interglacials, and that the avifauna of e. g. Minnesota was exactly zero just 15,000 years ago when it was covered by sever hundred meters of ice.

    Note to Eric Worrall:

    “Birds were amongst the most successful survivors of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event which wiped out the dinosaurs”

    Birds ARE dinosaurs. And while they are a most successful group today, they just barely survived the K/P extinction. There was a weird and wonderful variety of birds in the Late Cretaceous, of which a very few fairly closely related (neornithine) species, probably less than ten, survived. It is this that make bird systematics such a mess. Nearly all bird families differentiated at essentially the same time in the Early Paleocene from these very few species, making it virtually impossible to work out their relationships.

    • Anseranatidae would have been one of those surviving lineages and if the Magpie Goose is limited to the more tropical areas of Australia now, then that is entirely due to overhunting in the south where they were once common. One of the striking characteristics of the Australian avifauna is how homogenous it is – outside of rainforest specialists many species have very broad and flexible distributions (with some minor species/subspecies geographical variants depending on the current fad). Relatively large birds and relatively few major geographical barriers I suppose. Anyway, they seem quite capable of finding the resources they need and unlikely to be affected much by shifts of a few degrees in mean temperature.

      Another strange aspect is how many black and white bird species live here. Perhaps, these pied birds are threatened and that could be modelled into another paper.

      • Probably not. Anseranatidae is one more of all those Paleocene groups. Galliformes and Anseriformes may have separated in the Late Cretaceous though.

        But you are right that the Magpie Goose was common as far south as Victoria in the nineteenth century. This is another chronic fault of modellers. They have no historical knowledge and assume that current ranges are 100% natural and due to climate.

  26. More rubbish from duff researchers pretending to be scientists. Hopefully, some day they will run out of duff ideas; or maybe the money will run out.

  27. Those birds look more like the King Parrots that we see here in Victoria. They have the long tails too.
    We also get black cockatoos, sulphur-crested cockatoos, crows, magpies, currawongs, blue wrens, blackbirds (Hi pals from England!), crimson rosellas, lorikeets, eastern rosellas and the rainbow ones too. There are other sorts that sometimes call in, like corellas and galahs. I reckon our place is a bird paradise; there is no shortage at all around here.
    There is no shortage of insects and spiders or worms…no wonder the birds like it here!

  28. Anyway Eric, apologies if I’m wrong; it’s hard to see them properly through the foliage…that’s my excuse.

    • Definitely rainbows. Very adaptable. I don’t remember them when I was a kid in South east Aust (cool temperate) Now they are everywhere. So the range seems to have extended from subtropics to all the way down here in the last few decades. (it has nothing to do with them escaping heat)

    • Yes, definitely Rainbow Lorikeets – probably the Australian bird that has most taken to humans and used us to its great advantage. We even established a population in Perth for them. King Parrots are less gregarious (usually just a small family group unless there is heavy feeding) and more solid in their colour patterns – red and green mostly – and far less garrulous. Kings just whistle and cluck, Rainbows screech and chatter.

  29. Galahs and Corellas are great adapters….you can now find them on the beach scratching around among gulls
    And they like to have fun

  30. “Tropical Birds will Fail to Adapt to Global Warming”

    They certainly will if they get slashed by a wind turbine or fried to death by a solar concentrator.

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