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Report: Maine's Iconic Chickadee - and Other Birds - Threatened by Climate Change
06/24/2013   Reported By: Keith Shortall

The National Wildlife Federation is issuing another report that it says highlights the threats that climate change is having on New England's bird populations. The study predicts that some migratory species are arriving in Maine later, and that some iconic birds, such as the chickadee, are moving their territorial range northward. Keith Shortall has more.

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The report, called Shifting Skies, finds that some migratory species are arriving from the south two weeks earlier than they did 50 years ago. Dr. Jeff Wells, senior scientist at the Boreal Bird Initiative, says even a difference of a few days can interfere with the timing birds use to assure their young have supplies of insects to eat.

"It's a little bit like if you or I were fortunate enough to have situation where we arrived at 7 o'clock every evening with our families to our dinner table and there was always abundant food, and then the kitchen decided to shift the time to 6 o'clock and we never got the message, and we arrived at 7 and all of the food was all gone, " Wells says. "And that's what's happening for these long-distance migrants."

Wells says climate models indicate that another beloved species - the hummingbird - is also at risk.

"The arrival dates of hummingbirds have changed dramatically over the last decades," he says. "So we will continue to probably see changes there - and, perhaps, also in hummingbirds, how long they might linger in the fall."

"Another factor that's worth thinking about with hummingbirds is that, as you know, hummingbirds are a migratory species," says Dr. Hector Galbraith, Northeast scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.

Galbreath says intensified storm activity associated with climate change could reduce the numbers of migratory birds reaching North America each spring.

"Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is a pretty dodgy activity, because there are frequent storms and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and the various climate models we're working with these days predict that these storms are going to become more frequent and more intense," Galbraith says. "This could have the effect of raising this migration mortality in hummingbirds - and in other migratory species."

Galbreath and Wells were among those who spoke with reporters about the report via teleconference on Monday. Both were questioned about whether such reports, which often come with public policy recommendations regarding energy policy, carbon pollution, and promotion of renewable resources, are seen by the public as politically motivated.

Wells says scientists are simply trying to share the truth.

"But we've been doing that for decades now and it hasn't really worked very well," he says. "And we are often attacked by other people who say, 'Oh, you're doing it for your own special insterests, x,y and z.' But all we're trying to do is tell the truth - to be honest about telling the scientific truth about what we think's happening."

"There's been such a well-orchestrated campaign mounted against the science of climate change," says Hector Galbraith. "And what we as scientists have to do is to keep plugging away at the public and our political masters to saying, "Look, this is a problem. If we don't take steps now, things are just going to get much worse.'"

And Jeff Wells says if Mainers are told they might one day have to drive north to near the Canadian border to see a chickadee (in photo above), the message may sink in.


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