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Climate Change Shows That the Birds Know Nest

Aug 27, 2008
Imagine your wedding anniversary or your birthday falling a week earlier this year than it did forty years ago. This was the example that Mark Avery, the RSPB's conservation director, gave to the BBC's Today programme this morning to highlight the significance of a new report showing that many of the UK's garden birds, from Robins to Chaffinches, are laying their first egg of the year a full week earlier than they traditional have done.

The State of the UK'S Birds, a report produced by the RSPB, Natural England and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, collected evidence from over 30,000 nests with the help of 500 volunteers. The study found that as well as laying their eggs earlier in the year, many birds are raising fewer chicks. The song thrush, which dines on earthworms, is struggling to find their squirmy snacks in the more parched ground caused by drier summers.

The song thrush, a bird instantly recognisable to West Bromwich Albion fans from their club badge (as well as the subject of poetry from Browning to Hardy to Hughes) has actually been flourishing in the recent wet summers. However, in the long term there are fears for its survival, as climate change is expected to bring warmer, drier summers to its habitats.

The environmental groups fear that by laying earlier the birds will lose the precise relationship that they have with the wider environment; namely that chicks will appear before the food sources on which they rely, caterpillars and other bugs, are in plentiful supply.

The experts who conducted the report explicitly link the worrying changes in these birds's behaviour with global climate change. Their work provides another pillar of evidence against those sceptics who doubt the scale or immediacy of the problem of climate change, as well as a foreboding example of the extent to which those animals that we most take for granted; the small birds that dart from fence to fence in our gardens, the birds that perch high up, singing out unseen as we stroll through the countryside, will be threatened by global climate change.

Specifically, the evidence in the report suggests that the behaviour of the birds has been altered due to warmer winter temperatures and springs that start earlier. The birds assume a regularity to the seasons, a regularity that is no longer a given thanks to climate change, and are thus easily duped into nesting earlier than they should.

The report also found that the range of some key species of bird was dropping, and that the established migratory routes of many were altering as conditions change. Wading birds, such as dunlins, which have traditionally wintered in the UK from northern and eastern breeding grounds, are appearing in far lower numbers. The report suggests that, as winter conditions on the continent are becoming more sympathetic to the birds, they are choosing to preserve energy by remaining there over the cold months, and birds that were once forced to migrate due to lakes freezing over no longer have to.
About the Author
Martin Gavin is a writer for ecoswitch
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