Learning about Birds, Wildlife, and Climate Change

Learning about Birds, Wildlife, and Climate Change

December 19, 2017

As she launched a two-hour program on area wildlife and climate change, Patti Steinman of the Massachusetts Audubon Society posed three quick questions to our packed audience of roughly 80 area residents.

“Who likes wildlife?” Patti asked, as a sea of hands were raised. “Who likes birds?” Again, hands galore. Then, Patti asked, “Who likes climate change?” and not one hand went up.

Patti, a member of the Audubon team for 30 years, shared her extensive knowledge about species that were originally native to Massachusetts, how those populations have changed, and the effect climate change is expected to have on the local birds and wildlife. She spoke earlier this month to our audience at Bay Path University.

Her program, called “Through the Binoculars: Birds, Wildlife, and Climate Change,” was offered through Glenmeadow Learning, one of our many free offerings for members of the wider community that represents one facet of our mission to serve seniors across the region and to operate as a socially accountable organization.

Patti’s audience was extremely engaged and knowledgeable, consistently offering accurate answers to questions she posed about wildlife, flora, and fauna. At the end of her talk, Patti said some of the species with which we are so familiar might not continue to be New England sights just a few decades from now due to climate change.

Average global temperatures in Western Massachusetts have increased by 2.8 degrees since 1895 causing some birds to winter 40 miles north of where they did in the 1960s, and Patti said that by 2050, the chickadee, grouse, and many other species native to our region are expected to relocate to cooler climates further north.

That is, Patti said, unless we act now. She offered suggestions such as driving less, investing in electric cars, and protecting forest land to slow the effects. “It’s not too late,” she said. “If we start to follow some more ways to reduce our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, we certainly can reduce some of the effects of climate change.”

Birds aren’t the only species expected to disappear, Patti said. Trees such as spruce and fir are also expected to move north, perhaps remaining in only the northern tips of New England. “We do have a choice as to how our forests will be changing, depending on how we all act,” Patti said.

Other impacts of climate change, Patti said, will be coastal flooding, the increased spread of invasive species that can survive in any climate, and increased wildlife disease. Scientists are already noticing pathogens in trees, she said.

Patti’s talk began with the settling of Massachusetts. Local habitats and the animals living here were quite different at that time, she said. Deep forests provided a great home for mountain lions, deer, bears, beavers, moose, and turkeys.

Gradually, as fields were cleared to make way for farming, certain species died off or relocated, Patti said. Beavers became extripated—gone—from certain areas by the mid-1770s because they were hunted extensively, due to the value of their pelts. Moose couldn’t live in the open land humans created, and relocated in the early 1700s. Wolves and turkeys shared the same fate by the mid-1800s, respectively.

Some of those species, though, later returned to the area, Patti said, naming black bears, white-tailed deer, beavers, great blue herons, and moose. People began looking at nature differently in the 1900s, appreciating it for its beauty and recreational possibilities rather than relying on animals for survival.

Meanwhile, Patti said some bird species are also sticking around longer in the winter. The cardinal, for example, moved north 30 to 40 years ago, Patti said, and though it used to be a migratory bird, the species now stays north during winter months. Other example of species moving north to our region are the red bellied woodpecker, tufted titmouse, and Carolina wren.

“One reason that some birds are staying north is that New England is actually the bird feeding capital of the United States,” she said. “If you can find food, you might as well stay around here.”

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