NOV 8, 2014 10:00 AM ET //
A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in PLOS ONE, predicts that in 60 years,the distribution of bird species across the nation is going to be very different, due to changes in climate, habitat encroachment by humans and other factors.
“Habitat loss is a strong predictor of bird extinction at local and regional scales,” Terry Sohl, a USGS scientist and the author of the report, said in a press release published in ScienceDaily. “Shifts in species’ ranges over the next several decades will be more dramatic for some bird species than others.”
The study used computer modeling to look at the effects of various factors on 50 different North American bird species.
Some types of birds will become much rarer, such as the Baird sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), which will lose 91 percent of its present range. Others, such as Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii), whose range will increase by 62 percent, will spread to new areas across the United States. The general pattern seems to be that birds that are now found in hotter climates will benefit, while the northern species will suffer.
While climate change, which alters migratory patterns and the availability of food, is a major influence upon birds’ future, other human activities are also altering their environment. ”Changing landscape patterns such as deforestation and urban growth are likely to have at least as large of an impact on future bird ranges as climate change for many species,” Sohl said.
The forecast is particularly bleak for the Baird sparrow, which was discovered by James Audubon in 1844 and named after Spencer F. Baird, 19th-century ornithologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The small, brown, short-tailed bird has populated the prairies since before the European colonization of the Americas. It currently nests in the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. It winters primarily in northern Mexico, although some may be found in southern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The sparrow species experienced sharp population declines as much of its habitat was converted to agricultural use in the 19th and 20th Centuries, but its numbers appeared to stabilize after that, according to a 1999 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document.
From the Audubon Society website, you can listen to recordings of the Baird sparrow’s songs, which future Americans may not hear so often, if at all.