A field guide to the future former birds of LA

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: This weekend the Allen's Hummingbirds sparred around our feeders in Venice as usual. It's a sight likely to become more rare and perhaps even vanish in the future. The Allen's Hummingbird is climate endangered.

Last week, the Audubon Society released a report on climate change and birds in North America. Audubon scientists used three decades of data collected by birdwatchers to define the "climatic suitability" or "climate space" for each bird species--the range of temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes in which the birds are found in their summer and winter ranges. They then used climate change models to predict where those climate spaces will be in the future.

Allens_Hummingbird_FInch-FlickrCC.jpgAllen's Hummingbird range 2050.jpgOf the 588 species Audubon studied, more than half are in trouble--314 are likely to lose more than half of their current climate range by 2080. And 126 are likely to lose more than half of their range even earlier, by 2050, if global warming continues at its current pace. Audubon calls these birds, such as the Allen's Hummingbird, "climate endangered."

It's likely to be even worse than that, actually. While most birds will tend to move north as temperatures rise, there is no guarantee that they will find suitable habitat in their new climate space.

The Allen's Hummingbird is likely to have left LA by 2050. By 2080, it is likely to be forced out of 90 percent of its current breeding range, 93 percent of its summer range, and all of its winter range. Allen's Hummingbirds may be able to find suitable habitat in San Francisco, though they may have to compete with the Anna's Hummingbirds that sparred around our feeders when we lived there.

In California, along the Pacific Flyway, the most climate-endangered bird is the Eared Grebe, a winter visitor in LA. There may still be a suitable winter climate space for the grebe here in the future but, unfortunately, the Eared Grebe is likely to lose 100 percent of its summer range in North America by 2080. The California Gull faces a similar predicament--just 2 percent of its summer range in the interior West is expected to have a suitable climate by 2080.

The Purple Finch, which is actually raspberry-colored and can be seen around LA in summer and winter now, is just "climate threatened" according to Audubon. It will lose 89 percent of its summer range and 59 percent of its winter range by 2080, but it could find plenty of climate space if it can make it to Alaska, where there are currently no Purple Finches.

In the future, we're less likely to see Golden Eagles and Mountain Bluebirds in the mountains around LA. It will be too hot for them here.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker is currently a common denizen of the Pacific slope of North America. Audubon's climate model predicts that roughly two-thirds of its climate space for the summer season will shift--all the way to the northern Great Lakes and Newfoundland. The Red-breasted Sapsucker is unlikely to disperse that far. North America's sapsuckers-- the Red-breasted, Yellow-bellied, and Red-naped--are known to hybridize where their breeding ranges overlap. So as climate change forces range shifts, gene mixing may increase. But the Red-breasted Sapsucker may no longer be red-breasted and it is unlikely to adorn the Los Angeles area in the future.

The Audubon study doesn't predict which new birds might visit LA seasonally in the future or make their year-round homes here. But something will have gone out of the air in LA.

If things go badly, the canary in the coal mine doesn't have a chance. It's stuck in a cage.

The birds of LA still have a wing and a prayer. They might find suitable habitat somewhere else in the future. Or we might come to our senses and do what needs to be done to keep them here and ensure a suitable climate for all of LA's inhabitants in the future.

Note: Stamen Design, a data visualization and mapping studio in which I am a partner, created dynamic, interactive maps of climate range shifts for the Audubon Society's online report. Click here or on the map above to see them.

Photo courtesy of Finch/Flickr Creative Commons. Map courtesy of Audubon Society.

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