Threats to Birds - Global Warming

Marbled Murrelet by Thomas Hamer

Protecting old-growth forests prevents carbon stored in the soil from moving into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming, while also protecting Marbled Murrelets and other mature forest birds. Photo: Thomas Hamer


The Challenge

In recent years, the issue of global climate change has risen to become one of the top environmental issues in the public's consciousness. The full impacts of this burgeoning threat are not yet fully understood, but rising mean temperatures are already beginning to affect bird populations. BIrds time their migrations to coincide with food and nest site availability, but as temperatures change, food may not be present for the arriving migrants. Bird habitats are also shifting north, possibly faster than the birds can adapt. And in Hawaii, rising temperatures stand to eliminate the last mosquito-free refuges on mountaintops, potentially leading to increased rates of disease such as avian malaria and avian pox.


ABC Conservation Framework

Because of the complex and global nature of this phenomenon, it falls under all three aspects of ABC's conservation framework: Safeguarding the Rarest, Conserving Habitats, and Eliminating Threats.
pyramid icon - rarest pyramid icon - habitats pyramid icon


Primary Birds Impacted

All birds stand to be affected by global warming, but most at risk are those that utilize sensitive coastal habitats such as marshes and beaches, and island-nesting species. Hawaiian birds are particularly at risk both from habitat loss and the spread of malaria and pox to higher elevations with rising temperatures.



Atmospheric carbon in the form of carbon monoxide as well as other greenhouse gasses such as methane need to be curbed in order to limit the heat trapping effects that these gasses create in the atmosphere. Comprehensive global energy policy that reduces the burning of fossil fuels is key. This includes both reducing consumption and developing renewable energy sources on a large scale. Avoided deforestation -the protection of existing forest carbon stores in the form of reserves - is also critical. This has the added advantage of protecting existing bird and other wildlife habitat. Reforestation is also a technique that has the capacity to reduce atmospheric carbon and create additonal bird habitat

ABC Results

ABC Results Button

ABC has conducted research in conjunction with partners to ascertain what the ongoing and potential future threats are to birds from rising global temperatures, and has published reports detailing the concerns that have been revealed.

ABC Results Button ABC has created The BirdWatchers' Guide to Global Warming in conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation, which provides detailed information on the issue, including scenarios for each U.S. state.
ABC Results Button ABC has also created a factsheet on Global Warming's Impact on Birds which outlines the basic problem and its effects on birds.
ABC Results Button ABC has helped create a network of Latin American bird reserves that protect some of the last refuges for critically endangered birds. These reserves also guard against deforestation, which prevents soil-bound carbon escaping into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.


What Next?

What Next Button The U.S. must lead the way in developing comprehensive climate and energy legislation.
What Next Button Begin forest restoration now on cattle pastures at the highest elevations in Hawaii to create additional malaria-free habitat for Hawaiian birds.

Take Action
  • Write to your elected representatives to ask for comprehensive climate change legislation in Congress.

  • Reduce your carbon footprint by using energyefficient appliances (with the Energy Star label) and lighting (such as compact fluorescent bulbs), by adjusting thermostat temperatures (e.g., at night or while you are out at work), and insulating your home. Make your next vehicle a fuel-efficient one.

  • Walk, or ride a bike when possible; choose public transportation or car-pooling over driving.