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Roseate Spoonbill Survival by Degrees

Photo: Matthew Hansen/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: Joshua Pelta-Heller/Audubon Photography Awards.

On July 24, 2019, Sheila Pies steadied her camera on a particularly pink Roseate Spoonbill. After taking a few general photographs, she zeroed in on the spoonbill's ankles to reveal fancy silver bracelets: bird bands. To learn more about this enigmatic species, Audubon Florida has banded over 3,000 individuals and has been tracking their movements when the bands are re-sighted.

Can you spot the bands on M6's legs? Photo: Sheila Pies.

Sheila's bird - M6 - was first banded at Tampa's Alafia Bank in 2008. Relatively loyal to Sarasota, M6 had been spotted three times near the Fruitville library (in 2014 and twice in 2016), once off Coburn Street in 2015, then again at the Celery Fields in 2017. M6 behaves like many spoonbills do: finding successful breeding and feeding grounds, and staying put.

Note: To return to the page after watching the video, hover your mouse on the top right-hand corner of the screen and click the small "x."

Roseate Spoonbill Predicted Range with No Warming: Summer
Roseate Spoonbill Predicted Range with 1.5 Degrees of Warming: Summer
Roseate Spoonbill Predicted Range with 3 Degrees of Warming: Summer
Range Maps: Stamen Design

Unfortunately, many Roseate Spoonbills no longer have this luxury. Already shifting their range northward in response to habitat destruction and changing water conditions, Audubon modeling predicts they will shift even farther to find the right places to feed and raise their young.

The species is currently very widespread and numerous in the Neotropics, extending its range south to Argentina. Audubon’s climate model predicts an unstable future for this species in North America, with significant loss of suitable climate space in both summer and winter, though there is potential for new areas opening up to the north. Populations are declining in some core areas of this species’ summer range, and it remains to be seen how a shifting climate will affect this charismatic bird.*

*climate.audubon.org

At the turn of the 20th century, the unique pink plumage of the Roseate Spoonbills nearly vanished from Florida’s landscape. Decimated by hunters, the wading species rebounded only after protections kept their colonies safe. Now, Audubon Florida science showcases how far the spoonbill populations have come, and how far they still need to go.

The decline and resurgence of Roseate Spoonbills parallels the conservation movement in Florida. These bright pink birds with long legs and an unusually-shaped bill have long mesmerized those who encounter them, and their beautiful plumes were especially sought-after during a time when women’s fashion included hats adorned with feathers and even entire birds. Back then, an ounce of feathers was allegedly worth more than an ounce of gold; a trend that continued for decades until the birds were decimated and their feathers fell out of fashion. Today, Audubon Florida continues to be a premier scientific resource when it comes to Roseate Spoonbills.

What is Audubon doing for the spoonbill?

Audubon Florida continues to band Roseate Spoonbill chicks to monitor their changing ranges and protect areas they use as breeding and feeding grounds.

Additionally, we work with Everglades stakeholders, including citizen groups, government agencies, and elected officials, to improve water flow through the River of Grass and increase conditions the spoonbills need to thrive.

Photo: John Fox/Audubon Photography Awards.

Our Success

The 2019, Florida Legislature appropriated landmark funding to water quality and wetlands restoration projects, including more than $360 million for Everglades restoration. The continued funding will support the revitalization of the habitat Roseate Spoonbills sorely need.

Photo: Candy Childrey / Audubon Photography Awards.

What can I do?

Stay up to date with the 2020 Legislative Session and call your elected officials to support continued Everglades restoration initiatives. Sign up for our Audubon Advocate to receive updates right in your inbox.

When you see a banded spoonbill, record as much information as possible and submit your observations here.

Photo: Photo: Myrna Erier Bradshaw/Audubon Photography Awards.

Learn why the Roseate Spoonbill is the pink canary in a coal mine.

Note: To return to the page after watching the video, hover your mouse on the top right-hand corner of the screen and click the small "x."

Conclusion

We already know what we need to do to help the birds we love.

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 Commnunity

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!