The Greatest Threat to Our Birds is Here

The greatest threat to our birds is here, and it’s time to take action before it’s too late.

This morning, the National Audubon Society released its landmark study on climate change and birds, and the results are alarming. Research shows global warming threatens more than half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada, and many species on that list are the North Carolina birds we all know and love.

Cerulean Warbler by Wikimedia Commons.

Without action, we will see dramatically fewer bird species in our lifetime. But Audubon is already working to protect our birds and will be incorporating the results of this study to determine the places birds will need to survive and thrive over the next critical decade before it’s too late.

A Wake-Up Call for Birds and People 

Of the 588 continental United States and Canadian bird species examined in the seven-year study, 314 species are at risk. Of those, about 1 in 5 (126 species) are at risk of severe declines by 2050, and a further 188 species face the same fate by 2080, with numerous extinctions possible if global warming is allowed to erase the havens birds occupy today.

Brown Pelican by Linda Tanner/Flickr Creative Commons

Audubon North Carolina Executive Director Heather Hahn says “the results of this study are our wake-up call; we know with certainty that our birds are in trouble and not all of them will be able to survive in a changing climate without our help. Major declines in bird populations could happen within our children’s lifetime if we don’t take action now. Just like the canaries in the coal mines, these birds are sounding the alarm that it’s time for people to act before it’s too late.”

Threat to Our Birds

“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the investigation. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds – and the rest of us – depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and us.”

American Oystercatcher by Meryl Lorenzo/Audubon Photography Award

Langham and other Audubon ornithologists analyzed more than 40 years of historical North American climate data and millions of historical bird records from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them.

Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future.

Audubon's study shows how climate conditions including rainfall, temperature and humidity – the building blocks for ecosystems and species survival – may have catastrophic consequences when tipping those balances.

While some species will be able to adapt to shifting climates, many of North America’s most familiar and iconic species will not.

Piping Plover by Flickr Creative Commons

Stronghold in North Carolina

The study adds a renewed sense of urgency to protect the places birds and people live today, prepare for the future, and do everything we can to reduce the severity of global warming before it’s too late.

North Carolina birds like the American Oystercatcher, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Golden-winged Warbler are at risk of major population declines. Our state is a stronghold for birds, and we have a unique opportunity to protect a wide range of threatened species in a variety of habitats from the coast to the mountains.

What You Can Do

Here is what you can do right now to help:

  • Understand the local connection to this study.
  • Follow Audubon North Carolina State Director Heather Hahn on Twitter to get the latest information.
  • Learn more about the conservation programs already in place in North Carolina to protect our birds.
  • Read news coverage about the study from National Geographic.
  • Sign up for our NC Action Alert network to stay informed as we implement plans to save the strongholds birds will need to survive the impact of climate change in our state.
Wood Thrush by Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr Creative Commons

This study is just the start of a continuing work focus on climate change impacts on birds in North Carolina. Stay tuned to our Facebook page, eNewsletter, special eBulletins and website to learn how you can be involved.

The study released by the National Audubon Society, which was funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has numerous implications for conservation, public policy and further research and provides a new suite of tools for scientists, conservationists, land managers and policy makers. For more information about links between birds and global warming, including animated maps and photographs of the 314 species, visit

How you can help, right now