How Climate Change is Affecting the Birds You See

The view from the observation tower in the Lake Erie Bluffs.

Patrick Noonan

The view from the observation tower in the Lake Erie Bluffs.

Patrick Noonan, The Carroll News

Atop the hill at the Lake Erie Bluffs, you can see the lake stretch on for miles lit up from the sun falling beneath its waves in the horizon. To your left, a descending staircase leads you to the beach where you can sit on the rocks and let the waves grasp at your ankles. To your right, the park’s observation tower reaches 50 feet in the air, far surpassing in height all the trees that surround it. Looking around the park you can also find several areas dedicated to bird watching or, as it is colloquially called, “birding” 

Also in sight is the Perry Nuclear Power Plant which provides an alternative source of energy rather than typical fossil fuels. Aside from the water vapor rising out of the cooling towers, there is much to watch while up in the air, specifically, the birds.

Greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide are constantly getting pumped into our atmosphere by people and corporations alike and there are serious consequences. In March the IPCC released a report explaining how the rising temperatures and carbon emissions are harmful to the Earth’s environment. From the Arctic to the tropics, species across the globe are affected as a result: birds are no exception. While this may make it confusing for us when deciding what coat to wear, it is also confusing and altering the habits of birds everywhere.

Disruption in bird migration is something that Caitlin Ambrose has noticed in her work with the Lake Metroparks. Ambrose is the Assistant Chief of Interpretive Services and is currently stationed out of the Penitentiary Glen Nature Center in Kirkland, Ohio.

In an interview, Ambrose used the yellow-rumped warbler as an example of how migration patterns have changed. According to her, warblers have been coming earlier in the year. 

“Warbler species that we would typically see in May we were seeing them in April,” Ambrose stated. “We were also seeing less of them.” 

This lines up with what scientists, such as Dr. Manon Clairbaux from the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, are saying. If the climate is changing then many migratory animals such as birds may not have the need to migrate anymore or they might need to find somewhere else to live.

Humidity is another environmental change seemingly affecting birds. For example, it has been increasing in tropical areas such as Hawaii. In 2017, Alban Guillaumet, of Hawaii University, published a paper in the Ecological Society of America. His research looked at the Hawaiian Honeycreeper as an example finding that a rise in humidity has led to a rise in disease-carrying insects.

A disease that is currently an issue for birds across the country is avian influenza. Ambrose says that the disease is “highly pathogenic” and, while it does not affect humans, it is easy for them to pass it along. The illness also has “pretty much a 90% mortality rate.”

Much of the change in birds’ migration patterns have occurred because of what conditions are like in the air as well as the trees. According to scientists, climate change is affecting the actual size of the atmosphere. In a 2021 journal publication, scientists Nurhafizul Seri and Azimah Rahman found that the tropopause, the layer separating the troposphere from the stratosphere, has grown by hundreds of meters. Scientists Seri and Rahman attribute about 80% of this growth to human activity. 

Barb Burko is someone else who has seen a change not only in the timing of when birds migrate but also other factors that seem to be hurting them too. Burko has worked for Cleveland Metroparks for over 38 years. Starting as a naturalist, she eventually became interim director of Outdoor Education and is currently working for the new director. 

 In an interview, Burko mentioned how birds will line up on the coast of Lake Erie before traveling to Canada. In order to have enough energy to make the trip, birds must have enough food. If their food is diminishing, they may not be able to migrate regardless of wind patterns and temperature – something that could be applied to all migratory birds. 

President of the Environmental Issues Group on campus, Isabelle Marinchick ‘24,  explained that the club’s mission is to educate people on environmental issues such as climate change so that they can then help by either “voting, advocating, or switching to a more sustainable lifestyle.”Back on the ground walking along the Bluffs, one can see the many trees birds must flock to as they prepare for their trip across the lake. As you hear them sing goodnight, you wonder how many will be back around the same time next year.