How climate change is impacting every state bird
How climate change is impacting every state bird
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Climate change is quickly becoming the biggest threat to the long-term survival of America’s wildlife.” Recently, Audubon scientists studied 604 bird species to assess how their U.S. populations may change; their results for state birds are summarized in this slideshow.
Of course, climate change might seem almost forgotten in today’s cluttered, astonishing news cycle. Yet it remains a very real threat to life on Earth, including human life. A recent Siberian heat wave is among the factors that may accelerate climate change, causing the changes to bird populations to be toward the more extreme forecasts in the Audubon study.
These more extreme forecasts are for scenarios in the 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projecting 3 degrees Celsius of global warming; the lower scenario used by the Audubon team envisages a change of 1.5 C. As the world is on track to surpass that lower temperature rise, this slideshow focuses on changes with 3 C of warming—and on the Audubon forecasts for summer, when birds are breeding.
Climate change is a complex issue—leading to considerable denial, backed by substantial funding—and results in a variety of threats to birds, including increased risk of wildfires and heavy rains, more intense heat waves, and sea-level rise. These in turn are already affecting birds.
Much as coal miners formerly took canaries into mines to warn of carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases, wild birds can be looked to today as indicators of the looming threats from climate change. Doing so, the birds clearly warn of dangerous times upon us, with worse to come.
In reviewing the results for state birds, Stacker found the results are broad as expected: As temperatures warm, ranges of wild birds are tending to shift northward, though the changes are far more pronounced for some species than others. This can mean that birds that like it hot, such as the greater roadrunner—state bird of New Mexico—might expand its ranges in the United States, benefiting from more land becoming baking and arid; but northern species are being pushed toward the very limit of their ranges, with ruffed grouse and hermit thrush forecast to almost disappear or vanish entirely from the conterminous 48 states.
Of course, these changes are not inevitable, as there are ways to slow climate change, yet climate change will continue apace even if countries meet their pledges in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. So, especially if you live somewhere like Minnesota where the common loon may be lost as a breeding bird, it’s perhaps best to enjoy your state bird while you can.
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Alabama: Northern flicker
Although the northern flicker can breed in a wide variety of woodland, it is among 35 bird species rated as facing moderate or high vulnerability to climate change in Alabama—the only state with a woodpecker as its state bird. Rising temperatures could soon drive this flicker, also known as yellowhammer, from the hottest parts of the state, and as climate change intensifies it might only occur in Alabama as a winter bird.
Alaska: Willow ptarmigan
Alaska is undergoing a major transformation as the climate changes, including a decrease in boreal forests, leading to the Audubon study finding 166 of the state’s bird species are facing moderate or high vulnerability to climate change, with just 46 species rated stable or low vulnerability. Along with losing habitat, willow ptarmigan could be threatened by rising numbers of predators such as foxes and crows, which find them easier prey as the white plumage the ptarmigan molt into for the winter makes them stand out rather than camouflaged when snow is later to arrive in autumn, and melts earlier in spring.
Arizona: Cactus wren
As the Cornell Lab notes, “the song of the cactus wren is a quintessential sound of the desert and sounds like a car that just won’t start.” It’s a song that’s become a little less familiar nowadays, as large-scale development has reduced this wren’s habitat. Being adapted to hot, dry conditions, the cactus wren may survive across Arizona and even spread northward as the climate warms, albeit perhaps facing problems finding enough water needed to combat the heat.
Arkansas: Northern mockingbird
Named for its song including mimicry of other birds and even animals, the northern mockingbird has been the state bird of Arkansas since 1929. Though mockingbirds defend their nests against predators, they are susceptible to climate change impacts including wildfires that raze their habitats, along with spring heat waves endangering birds in the nest. However, the Audubon study suggests the mockingbird population may remain stable in Arkansas.
California: California quail
Even by 2009, the range of California quail had shifted 100 miles north as a result of climate change. Though this small game bird has adapted well to living by human communities, its range is set to further shift and contract with more frequent heat waves and increased fire risk seriously threatening its brushy habitats.
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Colorado: Lark bunting
Is it a lark? Is it a bunting? Actually, the lark bunting is a kind of sparrow, and a denizen of grasslands that are being hit by a double whammy of development and climate change. Drought, heat waves, and more frequent fires are set to increasingly impact the short-grass prairie where lark buntings breed, potentially reducing their summer range by two-thirds.
Connecticut: American robin
The American robin is among North America’s most familiar birds, and is a summer visitor to northern regions. Ecologists have found that in 2018, robins set off on their spring migrations some 12 days earlier than in 1994, evidently responding to earlier snowmelt in the north. The Audubon study forecasts that as the climate changes, increased fires that raze habitats along with more extreme heat killing nestlings will be among factors causing the robin to retreat from the south of its range, with reductions in the Connecticut populations.
Delaware: Delaware blue hen
Instead of a wild bird, Delaware opted for a breed of chicken—the Delaware blue hen—as its state bird. While living in farms will help safeguard them against climate change, there is research in the state on developing a breed of chicken that can withstand future heat waves. Perhaps in the future, Delaware might switch its state bird to the climate change-proof superhen. Regarding wild birds, the Audubon study rated 36 species of high or moderate vulnerability to climate change—just over a third of the 99 species rated of low vulnerability or stable.
District of Columbia: Wood thrush
Smaller than an American robin, and better camouflaged, the wood thrush is a bird of eastern forests that’s more easily heard than seen, thanks to the flutey song with which males announce their arrival from Central American winter haunts during spring. Though not on endangered lists yet, its population in the United States plummeted by more than 60% in the past five decades, largely because of forests being felled and fragmented in North America. Now, the forest fragments are susceptible to climate change, which brings impacts such as increased risk of fire and extreme spring heat, and may prompt wood thrushes to breed further north—leading to a possibility they will be gone from the District of Columbia by the end of this century.
Florida: Northern mockingbird
The medium-sized, slender Florida fowl called the northern mockingbird is long-tailed and slender, boasting grayish-white feathers among green tree leaves. Both male and female types sing, often echoing the sounds of other songbirds. While the Audubon study suggests the mockingbird population may remain stable as the climate changes in Florida, the mockingbird population in the state is declining, perhaps as agriculture in the state is less favorable for the species.
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Georgia: Brown thrasher
Even for the lower—1.5 C—temperature rise scenario used by Audubon, the range map for brown thrasher is mostly red, indicating “range lost.” At the highest scenario, with a 3 C rise, only a tiny area in the north remains yellow, indicating Georgia could lose its state bird within decades. Rising temperatures and heavy rains are key reasons this species will find too few grubs to survive as it thrashes through leaf litter in remaining forests.
Hawaii: Hawaiian goose
Once inhabiting most of the larger Hawaiian islands, the Hawaiian Goose—or Nene—was almost hunted to extinction by 1918, when only around 30 survived. But captive breeding and conservation measures have led to the population rebounding to around 3,000 today. Currently, the goose appears unusual, as a study found it was the only one of 459 endangered U.S. animal species not susceptible to climate change.
Idaho: Mountain bluebird
Though nesting in habitats ranging from sagebrush desert, through mountain meadows, to alpine tundra, the mountain bluebird is at considerable risk of climate change, which could see it lost from parts of its current range in Idaho as fires raze its breeding grounds, and extreme spring heat kills nestlings.
Illinois: Northern cardinal
Especially as the males are scarlet, with jaunty crests, northern cardinals are among the most eye-catching common birds in the United States, leading to seven states recognizing this as their state bird. Throughout its range, the cardinal faces climate change threats such as fires incinerating its habitat, and extreme spring heat killing young before they leave the nest. The Audubon study forecasts that for Illinois, in the midst of its range, the cardinal’s population may remain stable.
Indiana: Northern cardinal
Environmental Resilience Institute researcher Adam Fudickar detailed in 2019 how early spring seasons could cause extinction in one year due to premature budding. If insects emerge too quickly due to early germination, it throws off the natural migration cycle, with incoming birds arriving too late to feed. Coming in too late directly affects the population since less time to reproduce means fewer northern cardinals in Indiana. "It is important that migratory birds reproduce at the correct time so they have resources for their offspring,” said Fudickar.
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Iowa: American goldfinch
Feeding almost exclusively on seeds, the American goldfinch is a familiar summer bird across much of the United States. Despite frequenting a range of habitats, it is susceptible to climate change impacts including wildfires, extreme spring heat killing nestlings, and heavy rains destroying nests—which could lead to it no longer breeding in the southern half of Iowa with 1.5 C of warming, and no longer nesting in the state if there is 3 C of warming.
Kansas: Western meadowlark
A U.S. Geological Survey analysis found the population of the western meadowlark in Kansas declined between 1966 and 2017, and that decline looks set to continue or accelerate as a result of climate change. With increased risk of fires destroying swathes of its grassland habitat—and doing so repeatedly, along with heat waves killing young ones in the nest, the western meadowlark could be eliminated from almost half of its current range in the state.
Kentucky: Northern cardinal
Kentucky’s increasing rainfall and flooding has threatened all bird species, according to the Audubon Society, reporting “at the same time, droughts have decreased groundwater and river levels, threatening navigation, electric power generation, and public water supplies.” These climate change-driven threats directly affect the non-migratory, red pointed-crest, and cone-shaped bill bird, which can sing almost 30 songs. The Audubon study forecasts that the Bluegrass State cardinal may expand its range a little, as rising temperatures in northern areas and uplands make them more suited to it as a breeding bird.
Louisiana: Brown pelican
When Louisiana designated the brown pelican as its state bird in 1966, there were no longer any nesting pairs in the state. Hunting and pesticides had devastated pelican populations there and elsewhere in the United States, but conservation efforts since then—including a ban on the use of the pesticide DDT plus a reintroduction program—have spurred a resurgence in numbers. Even though the pelican faces climate change threats such as droughts destroying wetlands, and spring heat waves killing young birds in the nest, the momentum of the recovery looks set to continue, and the pelican may even more than double its range in Louisiana.
Maine: Black-capped chickadee
Though widespread in Maine, the black-capped chickadee is among several of the state’s bird species that are in flux as the climate changes. It appears to be shifting northward, even as some other species like the black vulture arrive and increase in the south. The chickadee faces threats including increased forest fires and heat waves killing nestlings, which may see it disappear from some places, especially along the coast.
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Maryland: Baltimore oriole
Though the Baltimore oriole faces climate change threats including fires damaging and destroying woods where it breeds, along with extreme spring heat killing nestlings, it appears these will mostly impact it in the Plains states. In Maryland, the oriole may even expand its range eastward, though declining a little in the west.
Massachusetts: Black-capped chickadee
In 2017 black-capped chickadee birds were reported as “highly vulnerable” to the negative effects of climate change, according to Mass Audubon, the statewide environmental protection agency. While popular for living in both the suburbs and forest now, the future home of the bird looks bleak, with reports suggesting 2050 climate temperatures as “unsuitable for the species, especially in the eastern part of the state.” The fluffy, black-capped and big-headed bird can walk out onto a twig’s edge for feed due to its tiny size and strong feet.
Michigan: American robin
Citing an IOPScience study, Newsweek reports how climate change is causing a 12-day earlier migration cycle than it did in 1994 for the famous North American birds. The study, which followed 55 American robins strapped with tiny GPS backpacks between 2014–2016, revealed the species began migrating in warm and dry winters rather than in melting snow. “The paper suggests American robins have been able to display some flexibility with their timing to keep up with changes in the climate, but how much extra flexibility they can demonstrate to cope with changing weather patterns is unknown,” reports Newsweek’s Rosie McCall.
Minnesota: Common loon
The common loon is among the quintessential Arctic and subarctic breeding birds, with a yodelling call that is a classic sound of wilderness. Yet with climate change bringing changes such as reduced prey, increased predators and higher temperatures, the loon is facing increasing threats across its range. In Minnesota, one of the fastest-warming states, the loon could disappear by 2080.
Mississippi: Northern mockingbird
The Audubon study suggests the mockingbird population may remain stable in Mississippi while the National Park Service reports climate change effects along the famous river are not. “The River is or may become home to 16 species that are highly sensitive to climate change across their range,” according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. In current climate temperatures, the medium-sized northern mockingbird, which is the state fowl for four other states, feeds heavily on insects and berries when not nestled high on a perch.
Missouri: Eastern bluebird
While birdhouses have helped eastern bluebirds recover from an earlier decline resulting from habitat destruction and loss of nesting sites, it is now vulnerable to climate change, which is adversely affecting its population in the west, while spurring expansion in the east of its range. Bluebird populations look set to remain stable across much of Missouri, with some expansion into areas that were formerly too cool for it to breed in the east.
Montana: Western meadowlark
The western meadowlark may not be at great risk of climate change in Montana. The Audubon study indicates its population will be mostly stable, with slight range expansions as some higher elevation locales become warm enough to afford suitable breeding habitats. However, the long-billed and short-tailed species has declined in the last 20 years, according to National Geographic, noting the bright yellow, black, and gray bird is strongly similar to the eastern meadowlark.
Nebraska: Western meadowlark
The Nebraska state bird, with the bright yellow plumage, is also the regional fowl for Oregon, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota. While the maximum lifespan for the species is 10 years, it’s grassland environment is evaporating in all the states, according to the Audubon Society, reporting an immediate need for priority conservation areas to protect the species. “For grassland birds to have the best shot at survival, we need to get serious about climate change and immediately reduce carbon pollution,” said Dr. Chad Wilsey, lead author of the Audubon Society’s North American Grasslands & Birds Report.
Nevada: Mountain bluebird
The Audubon Society reports a bleak future for the mountain bluebird, burrowing owl, and bald eagle due to climate change, noting all three species could lose up to half of their suitable environment by 2080. In Nevada, this could see it lost from perhaps half its range, with the surviving populations on uplands rather safe from fires that raze its breeding grounds and extreme spring heat that kills nestlings. The mountain bluebird, which nests in several environments, including sagebrush desert, alpine tundra, and mountain meadows, is also the state fowl for Idaho, where it is at high risk due to climate change, as well.
New Hampshire: Purple finch
In 2009, the Audubon Society released the results of a study on changing distributions of birds in winter, showing distributions tending to shift northward—with the purple finch showing the most dramatic change, spending winters 400 miles further north than it used to. The Audubon study of climate vulnerability likewise forecasts the purple finch’s breeding range will shift northward, which could lead to it disappearing from much of its current range in New Hampshire, or even becoming extinct in the state.
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New Jersey: American goldfinch
The American goldfinch is the official Garden State fowl along with Iowa and Washington, making the little finch a popular species. Often found in suburbs and backyards, the urban bird can also be found in weedy fields and floodplains, both of which are popular in New Jersey. The species is susceptible to climate change impacts including wildfires, extreme spring heat killing nestlings, and heavy rains destroying nests—which could lead to it finding New Jersey’s summers too hot, and the American goldfinch no longer breeding in the state.
New Mexico: Greater roadrunner
A large cuckoo that prefers to run rather than fly, the greater roadrunner is among the few state birds that like it hot—really hot. Though it does face threats from climate change—such as the impacts of droughts, wildfires and extreme spring heat—the roadrunner looks set to expand its range north in the United States, advancing with desertification. This includes New Mexico, where the roadrunner may expand its range by almost a third in coming decades, to encompass almost the entire state.
New York: Eastern bluebird
In New York, the bluebird’s numbers have increased faster than in most of its range, and the increase looks set to continue, with nesting bluebirds colonizing the north of the state in future decades. Founded in 1882, the New York State Bluebird Society has a strict mission statement to multiply the state fowl with a statewide nest box program since discovering a decline in the species in the 1950s and 1960s. "The 2000-2005 Breeding Bird Atlas for New York State showed an increase of 70% compared with the Atlas of 1980-1985,” reports the society.
North Carolina: Northern cardinal
The Audubon study forecasts that for North Carolina, the cardinal’s population may remain stable, perhaps with some range expansion into upland areas. The prominent-chested and thick-billed bird is popular among dense shrubs and vines, often found sitting hunched over on low branches. While the Tar Heel State bird is popular on the East Coast, it is largely absent west of the Great Plains.
North Dakota: Western meadowlark
The western meadowlark was named North Dakota’s state bird in 1947, but could be eliminated from almost half its current range in the state. While still far-reaching and familiar, some surveys prove the ongoing population has lessened in recent decades, according to the Audubon Society. Similar in color and pattern to its peer the Eastern meadowlark, the western species is quite different: “In the Midwest, [the species] seems to prefer shorter grass and drier fields than the sites chosen by Eastern Meadowlark,” reports the society.
Ohio: Northern cardinal
Also abundant in the Southeast, specifically as Virginia’s state bird, the northern cardinal can be found flying its bright red colors across the Ohio sky. The Audubon study forecasts that for Ohio—where a new report finds severe droughts, inland flooding, wildfires, and landslides will become more common, the cardinal’s population will remain broadly stable.
Oklahoma: Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Inhabiting open country including farmland and ranches, the scissor-tailed flycatcher is a common visitor to the Great Plains. Though facing climate change threats including wildfires and extreme spring heat, it may expand its range northward in Oklahoma, as rising temperatures make northern areas more suited to its requirements for breeding.
Oregon: Western meadowlark
When the western meadowlark was chosen as Oregon’s state bird in 1927, it was among the state’s most abundant and most widely distributed species, but it is now much less common, largely because of destruction of its grassland habitat. As of 2014, Portland Audubon reports the local society fights climate change with several methods such as “preserving mature and old-growth forests that serve as carbon stores,” as well as providing protective habitats for climate-related droughts.
Pennsylvania: Ruffed grouse
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is striving to restore the ruffed grouse population, which has crashed as a result of West Nile virus, along with habitat changes. Despite these efforts, climate change impacts including intensifying rain, rising temperatures and fires becoming more common, may push the grouse out of Pennsylvania; indeed, it may shift out of the 48 conterminous states.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island red
South Carolina: Carolina wren
Since the early 1900s, the Carolina wren has evidently benefited from climate change, expanding northward from the southeast United States, especially as winters warmed. Though the South Carolina population faces threats such as extreme spring heat waves endangering young birds in the nest, it looks set to remain a common resident throughout the state.
South Dakota: Ring-necked pheasant
The ring-necked pheasant is native to Asia. It was introduced to South Dakota in 1898, and has since become a widespread game bird. Though facing climate change threats such as wildfires and spring heat waves that threaten nestlings, its population in the state looks set to remain stable.
Tennessee: Northern mockingbird
The Audubon study suggests the mockingbird population may remain stable in Tennessee. The grayish and white medium-sized bird can be seen nesting in dense berry-producing trees in the suburban areas of the Volunteer State, reports the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, adding that the fowl is quite territorial and is known to “dive and attack” homeowners and their pets when not seeking insects and berries.
Texas: Northern mockingbird
The Lone Star State’s bird has a somewhat stable future in Texas, according to the Audubon study. The northern mockingbird lives year round in the west south-central part of the U.S. and “are found in just about every habitat type in the state,” according to Texas Park and Wildlife, noting that the male species’ constant singing during its breeding display makes it the most famous fowl.
Utah: California gull
It might seem odd that a landlocked state should choose a gull as state bird, but for Utah this stems from the perhaps legendary “Miracle of the Gulls”—which, according to perhaps exaggerated tales, occurred as settlers threatened by a cricket infestation were saved by California gulls that arrived en masse and devoured the crickets.
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Vermont: Hermit thrush
Though hardier in the face of wintry weather than several of its relatives, the hermit thrush is severely threatened by climate change. It’s among species that may shift mostly out of the conterminous 48 states, and could almost disappear from Vermont.
Virginia: Northern cardinal
The Audubon study forecasts that for Virginia, in the midst of its range, the cardinal’s population could stay stable, perhaps with some northern expansion. The extremely territorial male northern cardinal is so space conscious it’s known for “attacking his own reflection in windows and mirrors,” according to the society. The natural habitat for the northern cardinal can be found throughout the Old Dominion State in several areas of its habitat including woodland edges and desert washes.
Washington: American goldfinch
The two subspecies of the American goldfinch are divided by the Cascade Mountains, according to the Seattle Audubon Society, noting the species’ breeding time is in sync with the thistle harvest. The Audubon study reports a moderate vulnerability status for the predominantly yellow, all-season bird often seen nesting in open woods or on the roadside. The American goldfinch mostly feeds off seeds, randomly ravaging for insects.
West Virginia: Northern cardinal
The Audubon study forecasts that for West Virginia, in the midst of its range (similar to Virginia), the cardinal’s population may remain stable, perhaps expanding its range in the north. While the study reports the northern cardinal’s current numbers are seemingly stable, it also notes a widespread and abundant conservation status for the long-tailed songbird, which forages its diet of berries, insects, and seeds in low bushes and high trees.
Wisconsin: American robin
In the 1930s and 1940s, renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold and his students recorded when the robins arrived in spring. Now, according to members of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the robins arrive three weeks earlier, and some may even stay year-round. The Audubon study forecasts that as the climate changes, increased fires that raze habitats along with more extreme heat killing nestlings will be among factors causing the robin to shift north in the state, perhaps no longer breeding in southern parts of its range.
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