Arctic Birds Suffering in A Changing Climate

North in the Arctic, there is a mystery unfolding. Populations of birds have entered into a sharp and rapid decline, leaving scientists scrambling to understand just what is happening. As Ed Struzik for Yale’s Environment 360 reports, both the birds and the species they prey on are suffering.

American Kestrel
American kestrel photo taken by Barbara Fleming, from the National Wildlife Photo Contest.

“There’s no doubt that something is happening,” says Dave Mossop, a biologist at Yukon College who has been studying birds in the Yukon for more than 40 years. “Kestrels here are declining so fast, it’s scary. As many as 60 percent of the adult peregrines we have in the Yukon haven’t even bothered nesting in recent years. Our gyrfalcons are breeding much later, seem to be producing fewer young, and are declining in abundance.”

Thick billed Murres, Flickr photo by Don Henise
Thick billed Murres, Flickr photo by Don Henise
 There is one likely culprit, climate change. Surviving in a harsh landscape like the Arctic requires a careful strategy, one that can be thrown wildly out of alignment by shifts in temperature.

In the case of the Arctic, warmer temperatures can mean more mosquitoes harassing some species, or longer rain seasons that have literally drowned some peregrine chicks in their nests.

NWF’s senior scientist Doug Inkley voiced his concern as well. “This report of widespread bird declines in areas where climate change is at its most extreme doesn’t bode well for the future of these birds adapted to Arctic ecosystems.” As our own report on migratory birds found, it is a crisis birds across the nation are facing.

If we can ever hope to reverse this decline, and to help preserve the homes of these birds in places like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, we need to take action now. As the tendrils of climate change reach even the most remote natural areas on the planet, we need to redouble our efforts to move away from carbon fuels and cut our emissions.

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