Michigan birds are at risk – here's why some may disappear forever

A look at how impact will change Michigan's wildlife
Posted at 7:16 AM, Oct 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-24 18:52:53-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — If you walk on Belle Isle, you’ll hear the songbirds if you time out your trip right, but a new report questions whether they’ll exist in our state much longer. The same goes for the common loon, a number of warblers, a red-headed woodpecker — well, the list continues to a number tipping the scale upwards of 100 species.

“Looking at whether we act right now, or don’t act, really determine a lot of the future for these species,” explained Ava Landgraf, a researcher at Detroit Audubon.

Landgraf wasn’t surprised when the Audubon Society released a report noting 389 species endangered by changing climate. Those on the ground are well aware of the issues that have cropped up — habitats are being destroyed due to changes; the effects range from a loss of insects that change the food chain to a loss of trees used for nesting. In some locations, the temperature itself is the issue.

“Everything is affected,” said Landgraf as we walked through tall invasive species grasses on Belle Isle.

“Plants are flowering, and seeding, at a different time than they used to,” explained Rochelle Breitenbach, the president of Detroit Audubon. “So, they show up and it’s not there yet.”

It’s those type of changes that lead some to a question: So what?

Landgraf and Breitenbach will point to a simple answer: the canary in the coal mine of the olden days — canaries were brought deep into mines because if they died, it was a warning sign that sent workers scrambling for safety. The difference, in this case, is that as birds die off, there is no clear exit strategy.

“We are reaching the point where it’s going to get too far, and we can’t do anything about it.”

That’s why there’s a strong push to make changes in habits, not for the sake of birds alone — but people.

That said, the potential outlined in Audubon’s research is alarming. It’s not new either — earlier this year, research showed that the U.S. and Canada lost 2.9 billion birds in the last 50 years; some say it’s a sign of environmental health declining. Research by Audubon looks at changes if climate change increases by 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees Celsius. That worst case scenario found vulnerability for 64 percent of species in the United States, essentially two out of every three types of birds.

“There’s hope in this report, but first, it’ll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It’s a bird emergency,” said David Yarnold, CEO and President of Audubon.

Audubon’s zip code-based tool, the Birds and Climate Visualizer, helps users understand the impacts to birds where they live, making climate change even more local, immediate and, for tens of millions of bird fans, deeply personal. 

Landgraf told 7 Action News making decisions to reduce your carbon footprint can help the overall issue: using less energy at home and making decisions to travel that require less oil/gas helps, too. That said, there are other things that we do regularly that can harm birds in our area — she noted a wide variety of steps you can take to improve the habitat for birds in our area:

  • Turn off your lights: During migration season, bright lights can be harmful to birds who rely on the moon, and stars, to travel. Lights can confuse birds. Sometimes they run into buildings, and other times they’ll continue to fly in circles until they essentially die from exhaustion.
  • Be mindful of how you treat feral cats — feeding them encourages a growing population and can be harmful to birds.
  • Plant native species: What grows naturally, tends to be what naturally works with birds — many plants that are sold in stores aren’t native to Michigan and don’t help the eco-system the way native plants may.
  • Raking leaves? Maybe wait. While raking leaves is a typical chore, Landgraf said that bagging them and shipping them away can take away a natural hunting ground for birds that rely on leaves during the fall to find insects, worms and other small prey. That doesn’t mean you can’t rake, but skipping the bagging could help a bird.