Santa Fe residents have become accustomed to the trilling sound of the broad-tailed hummingbird as it darts around flowers and feeders looking for nourishment from spring through mid-fall. The species’ roughly 4-inch-long, green-winged and red-chested male often will buzz close to a birdwatcher’s head and perform intricate, high-flying mating rituals.

“People are just crazy about attracting hummingbirds to their feeders,” said Anne Schmauss, co-owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Santa Fe and author of the “For the Birds” column in The New Mexican.

But a new report from the National Audubon Society has cast doubt on the future of the broad-tailed hummingbird and dozens of other birds in the state. The study, which says nearly two-thirds of North American birds are in danger of extinction due to the effects of climate change, names 48 percent of New Mexico’s birds at risk.

That New Mexico group includes the mountain chickadee — a regular visitor to bird feeders — as well as the dark-eyed junco, the pinyon jay and the acorn woodpecker.

The report has a ZIP code-based tool to track birds in each area.

The gloomy forecast follows on the heels of a study published last month in Science magazine that says the U.S. and Canada have lost nearly 3 billion birds in the last 50 years due to “ecosystems in disarray because of habitat loss” and other issues.

“It’s alarming to us,” said John Hayes, executive director of Audubon New Mexico. “The top-line message is that 389 species of the 600-plus the National Audubon Society studied show that under a 3-degree warming scenario, they are vulnerable to extinction by the end of the century.”

Government agencies, as well as local and national environmental groups, agreed the news is bad.

“This report serves as yet another sobering reminder of the negative impacts of climate change, including on bird species that live right here in New Mexico,” said Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department.

Michael Robinson of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., said, “This [report] illuminates just one facet of the global catastrophe that is underway. … Birds resonate with people. People like to see them come back year after year. They like to know that they are going to fare well. Global warming means they are not going to fare well.”

Birds are not the only species at stake. Experts say birds are living indicators of environmental changes that affect all species, including humans.

Report: 48 percent of New Mexico’s birds at risk of extinction from climate change

Acorn woodpecker. Pixabay photo

“The very basis for having a canary in the coal mine is to get information in time to save yourself,” said Robert Mulvihill, ornithologist for the National Aviary, a nonprofit located in Pittsburgh. “That’s what this report does. It gives us time to understand the scale and magnitude and changes that we humans are creating on Earth and to hopefully give us some pause and ability to adjust our behavior to act in a more sustainable way.

“If this is happening to birds,” he added, “what does that mean for all of us?”

It’s a question worrying scientists, environmental activists and conservationists as concerns about global warming and climate change continue to grow. For example, President Donald Trump has rolled back some regulations designed to limit global warming and withdrew the nation from the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international accord on climate change goals.

Just over a year ago, the 30-year-old United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report saying there are only about a dozen years for global warming to be minimized and contained before the world begins suffering more drought, intense heat and flooding.

To prepare the Audubon report, analysts studied bird observations for 604 species around the nation, looking at climate and habitat conditions, bird-breeding surveys and data on land use, vegetation distribution and climate change projections.

Warming projections of both 1.5 degrees and 3 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees and 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) through 2080 were studied to see how birds would fare.

In New Mexico, the report says, average temperatures during the warmest month are expected to increase over time by about 5.8 C, while average annual precipitation is expected to decrease by some 1.3 inches. Those changes are expected to impact moisture levels, vegetation and insect communities.

Which could lead birds to die out or move out.

Hayes and Robinson said many bird species could adapt to climate changes by migrating to areas where conditions meet their needs — primarily north. But, Hayes said, “When conditions change so that those habitats are no longer available anywhere, there’s nowhere to go. We’re not talking about direct mortality rates, but of consistent population loss as a result of losing habitat.”

Audubon leaders want the report to serve as a call to action to curtail the impacts of climate change. It urges governments and communities to pursue “policies that together can drive down emissions at the scale and speed we need” and to “invest in 100 percent clean energy, energy efficiency and clean transportation policies that will dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the U.S. and world economies.”

Hayes said he doesn’t see the study as a “gloom-and-doom” scenario. The average person can do more to save energy and lower carbon emissions by reducing use of plastics and using public transportation.

He cited the state’s new Energy Transition Act, which mandates a shift to 50 percent renewable energy sources by 2030, as the type of policy that can make a difference.

The report also suggests people push state legislators to pass other clean energy laws, plant more native vegetation throughout the state and increase wetlands.

Report: 48 percent of New Mexico’s birds at risk of extinction from climate change

Mountain chickadee. Pixabay photo

The state is heading that way, activists say.

Earlier this year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the creation of the New Mexico Climate Change Task Force, directing all state agencies to contribute to a statewide climate strategy to decrease effects of warming temperatures.

“The Environment Department has received clear direction from the governor to take action to prevent and mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change and we are continuing on that path,” Hayden said.

Schmauss said she began noticing long before the Audubon report that some birds aren’t showing up in Santa Fe like they used to.

“We’re sort of an unofficial barometer of what is happening with birds,” she said. “We hear customers talk all the time about birds that they see. They don’t tell us, ‘We’re seeing 30 percent less,’ but they say, ‘We don’t see as many mountain chickadees as we used to.’

“In Santa Fe, you may have this feeling that you are in the forest with lots of trees and vegetation and insects and diversity,” she added. “But to see that slipping away … I don’t know when we are going to tip.”

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General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(5) comments

Tom Aageson Aageson

Cities like London and Tokyo are planting trees in large numbers to absorb CO2, reduce city heat and create wildlife habitat. An abundance of trees and shrubs is healthy for people, providing spaces for them to walk. Low GDP countries are planting hundreds of thousands trees as well.

David Cartwright

Because this entire study appears to be anecdotal together with a bunch of untested computer assumptions, let me offer my anecdotes for the year from a local mountain perspective: more humming birds than ever this year--only the bears interrupted the feeding and sent the birds helicoptering away. Where are the Stellar's jays? Haven't seen a one this year. Late arrival? I'm also waiting for the mountain magpies to show up. Small bird population is exploding, but once again bears intervened. Ravens unchanged.

JC Corcoran

“It is rare that a single choice of ours can have a broad and decisive impact on the climate crisis. We have a moral imperative to choose and advocate for plant-based diets for the health of our planet and the well-being and survival of generations to come.” ~ George C. Wang, M.D., Ph.D. is an integrative medicine physician, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and adjunct assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"Adopting a plant-based diet is one of the most powerful choices an individual can make in mitigating environmental degradation and depletion of Earth's natural resources." ~ National Academy of Sciences

“If cattle and dairy cows were a country, they would have more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire EU 28.” ~ Steven Chu, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, former Energy Secretary, Nobel Prize winning physicist

"The only way to have a truly sustainable diet is to eat more plant-based foods and less meat and dairy. All this new research shows that we don’t have a choice — there simply isn’t the land to feed the U.S. or the world any other way." ~ Center for Biological Diversity

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use... It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car." ~ Joseph Poore, University of Oxford, Department of Zoology and the School of Geography and Environment

"A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy." ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

"As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." ~ Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?"

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” ~ Environmental Defense Fund

"The growth in [animal agriculture] coupled with an increased need for protein and energy-rich animal feed has had a devastating impact on nature. Feed crops threaten the biodiversity of many of Earth’s most valuable and vulnerable areas." ~ Appetite for Destruction, World Wildlife Fund

"The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." ~ UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow"

“... the consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses, and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” ~ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

"Reducing meat and dairy consumption will have positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions and human health. It will also help biodiversity, which must be conserved to ensure the world's growing population is fed." ~ Global Environmental Change

"Beef, the most commonly consumed ruminant meat, is resource-intensive to produce, requiring 20 times more land and emitting 20 times more GHGs per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, such as beans, peas and lentils." ~ World Resources Institute

“Our use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe.” ~ United Nations Environment Programme

"However they are achieved, plant-based diets are a compelling win-win for society... Few climate solutions of this magnitude lie in the hands of individuals or are as close as the dinner plate." ~ Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist

Barry Rabkin

Let me think that over when I have my green chile cheeseburger (the burger from animals, of course). But seriously, I intend to eat meat (from animals) whenever I want and particularly on #MEATFULLMONDAYS.

Robert Bartlett

Fake news.

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