Climate Change Linked To Declining Bird Populations In Idaho And Across Great Basin

Mar 18, 2019

The study finds drier conditions in wetlands across the Great Basin have resulted in declining populations of waterbirds like ducks, geese and heron. Researchers noted significant changes to the region's climate in the last twenty years.
Credit TexasEagle / Flickr

A new study finds habitat for waterbirds has been declining due to climate change. Warmer temperatures and less precipitation are leading to a reduction in habitat which, in turn, has resulted in fewer waterbirds in the Great Basin.

The study features work from Oregon State University, UC Merced, the US Geological Survey and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation. Scientists pored over a century of climate data for the Great Basin and compared it to 50 years of bird surveys beggining with the year 1968.

Focusing on waterbirds – including ducks, geese and herons – the researchers looked at their presence along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory corridor in the Western U.S. The scientists found significantly warmer temperatures and lower amounts of precipitation in the Basin over the last two decades. The study’s lead author, OSU professor Susan Haig, says that’s concerning.

“As it gets hotter, and these wetlands get drier and saltier, they become less viable for birds raising chicks,” says Haig. “And so, it’s something that’s insidious. It’s an important finding.”

When asked if something can be done to reverse the declining bird populations, Haig offers a frank answer.

“I – I honestly don’t know the answer to that question,” Haig says. “I’m hoping we will be able to do some effective wetland management. If we don’t have effective management across the region very soon, we could very well lose the flyway.”

The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

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