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Wood Thrush Survival by Degrees

Photo: Kathy Johnston/Audubon Photography Awards.

In 2014, the National Audubon Society released a landmark climate report detailing the risks faced by our favorite bird species as climate change effects are felt across the country and across the world. In 2019, the report was completely revised to included more observations, more data, and more threats.

Audubon’s new science shows that two-thirds (389 out of 604) of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. The good news is that our science also shows that if we take action now we can help improve the chances for 76% of species at risk.

Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of community-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change. Our work defines the climate conditions birds need to survive, then maps where those conditions will be found in the future as the Earth’s climate responds to increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

It’s the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, and it’s the closest thing we have to a field guide to the future of North American birds.

Photo: Juan Zamora/Flickr CC by 2.0.

It's springtime in Tallahassee, the weather starting to warm again after a chilly winter season. Audubon Florida Director of Bird Conservation, Marianne Korosy, is birding in her backyard.

She spots the usual suspects easily: bright red Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees busily feeding, a Red-shouldered Hawk standing sentry atop a snag. But from the shadows of the forest she hears one of the most haunting bird calls in North America: the flute-like song of the Wood Thrush.

If the climate continues to warm, Florida may lose this hauntingly beautiful song altogether.

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In the late 20th century, the Wood Thrush was one of the most potent symbols of Eastern forests under siege. Sharp population declines were blamed on cowbird parasitism, nest predation, and habitat fragmentation. A new challenge is climate change. Audubon's climate model projects a substantial loss of current summer range, with a critical shift in the offing, as new range could become available across much of what is today the boreal forest.*

*climate.audubon.org

Predicted Wood Thrush Range with No Warming: Summer.
Predicted Wood Thrush Range with 1.5 Degrees C: Summer.
Predicted Wood Thrush Range with 3 Degrees C Warming: Summer.
Range Maps: Stamen Design

While the Wood Thrush could expand its range northward, this iconic species would disappear almost completely from Florida. Unfortunately, other factors combine to make this species increasingly vulnerable across the remainder of its range.

Cowbirds lay many eggs in their nests, so the thrushes often raise mainly cowbirds, with few young of their own. As forests are cut into smaller fragments, it apparently becomes easier for cowbirds to penetrate these small woodlots and find more of the thrush nests. The Wood Thrush is likely also losing wintering habitat in the tropics.

What is Audubon doing for the thrush?

Wood Thrushes need wet, hardwood forests to survive, and are known for living near unique, sandbottom streams in North Florida.

Sensitive to disturbance, Wood Thrushes rely on intact stretches of forest, far from the edges that connect the trees with pastureland, row crops, and developed property.

Audubon Florida continues to fight for Florida Forever funding that can be leveraged to purchase and protect large tracts of forest habitat, like the Apalachicola River corridor, stretching from Florida's state line to the Gulf of Mexico. We intervened in the legal fight with neighboring Georgia over public and agricultural water withdrawals, working towards keeping the Apalachicola River's water flowing into its vast floodplains while conserving habitat for Wood Thrushes and other bird species that depend on broad landscapes of intact forests.

Audubon staff worked closely with Apalachee Audubon Chapter to research tracts along the Apalachicola River that could be purchased together into one globally Important Bird Area through the Florida Forever Program.

Our Success

Lake Talquin State Forest and Apalachicola National Forest protect many of the remaining sandbottom streams in large, unbroken tracts of forest.

In North Florida, Audubon has partnered with others to advocate for restoring the Ocklawaha River and protecting springs from pollution and overuse of groundwater. More recently, we were the lead on a friend of the court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Georgia’s over consumption of water to protect the Apalachicola River ecosystem.

Photo: Will Stuart.

What can I do?

Conserving large swaths of forest in Florida will ensure that the Wood Thrush's flute-like melodies will continue to be heard in North Florida's forested landscapes long into the future. Floridians should encourage Florida Forever purchases that create wildlife corridors so these birds do not have to fly over hostile habitat like parking lots and highways.

Advocate for the Florida Forever acquisitions along the Apalachicola River by contacting your local elected official. Follow Audubon Florida's policy work to stay up to date on opportunities to support Florida Forever.

Photo: Megumi Aita/Audubon Photography Awards.

Across the Atlantic Flyway, Audubon has engaged landowners and foresters responsible for managing nearly 4.5 million acres. In partnership with the Belize Audubon Society, Audubon is also working to protect forested winter habitat for the Wood Thrush and other neotropical migrants. Audubon will expand both the reach and scope of this pragmatic approach to conservation, including promoting policies that offer economic incentives for forest preservation in both Latin America and the United States.*

Conclusion

Protect the places birds need now and in the future.

In addition to taking personal action at home, we must urge action at state and federal levels to address the root causes of a changing climate.

We know how to reduce global warming and already have a lot of the tools and solutions at our fingertips — what we need are more people who are committed to making sure those solutions are put into practice.

Audubon’s work is solutions-driven rather than by ideology. We understand how overwhelmed a lot of people feel by more bad climate news. Birds tell us; it’s time to act, and there is still time to get this right if we take action now and demand action from our elected officials at every level of government.

We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at an urgent speed and on a wide scale from every sector of the economy — electricity generation, agriculture, transportation, commercial and residential buildings, and industrial processes.

Find Model Ordinances to Use in Your Community

Change begins with you! Changes at the local level can add up to big savings—in greenhouse gas emissions and taxpayer dollars. Improving the energy efficiency and clean energy mix of your city or county and keeping your waterways free of polluting nutrients can fight climate change and harmful algal blooms. To learn more and be connected with others interested in this work, email flconservation@audubon.org and sign up to receive our electronic newsletter for opportunities to lend your voice to Florida and its climate.

Curious about what your city or county could do? Here are some of the common ways small communities can make a huge difference. To make it even easier, we’ve included examples—model ordinances—that your city or county staff can consider as a starting point for crafting the solutions that work best in your community.

There’s no time to waste. Let’s get started today!