What birds can teach us about climate change

I must admit that I don’t know a lot about birds but I do know that they can be harbingers of change. I have been looking at the Royal Society Protection of Bird’s website and at the Chaffinch in particular, because it is a pretty yellow gold bird, and when I played the chaffinch song for the web site it sounded familiar and delightful. I see that chaffinch eat seeds and insects, and cover most of England Wales and Scotland. There are either 313,000 breeding pairs (although other sources say 200,000 pairs). Most Chaffinch migrate to Spain for the winter but recently more chaffinch than normal chose to stay in this country.

In 1978 only about a third of the population over wintered in England but now virtually half the chaffinch population does. The RSPB are worried about the effect of climate change on birds. People who year on year spend long periods of time outside observing birds do not think that climate change made by human activity is a myth, but a reality.

Cambridge and Durham Universities have just published a Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds. I haven’t bought it and cannot yet find out how to get it, but the reviews of the atlas point out its “headline” finding; the average European migrating bird’s territory is expected to move 550 kilometers northeast by the end of the century if climate change continues at its present pace. Our grand children and our great grand children will see fewer species of birds that we and our ancestors for dozens of generations have seen; possibly one fifth of all European bird species will be extinct.

Already some German species which used to migrate to Italy and Greece now migrate to Sussex simply stay put in Northern Germany.It is just not about shifting birds’ territories to the north east because the habitats 550 kilometres away will not be the same. That means that a species of bird having its territory in Lille, in Northern France would move to Carlisle. Birds of species centered territorially in Carlisle would move to where?

In other cases there will be no mountains for mountain birds, no marshes for marsh birds and no land for land birds. Although we shall get more exotic species in England than before everyone who has studies this expects there to be fewer species.

Over 650 years ago Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a long and what is now a difficult poem to read called “A Parliament of Fowls” about birds meeting to chose mates. Chaucer names the birds that he knows as participants in this fictitious event which is used as a study of the meaning of love. He names (with old English spelling) falcons, sparrow hawks, quails, larks, doves, swans, ravens, cranes, chuffs, jays, herons, lapwings, starlings, kites, sparrows, nightingales, swallows, peacocks, pheasants, cuckoos, popinjays, drakes, storks, cormorants, crows, fieldfares, thrushes, eagles, geese, the chaffinch and other species that I cannot identify. I think that these can all be found in England, apart from eagles, which are central to the plot of Chaucer’s poem.

Perhaps someone who knows more about birds than me can help. I expect species that we have lost in the past 600 years have been due to hunting by man, not climatic changes.

Today we rightly protect birds which are essential to preserve biodiversity upon which ultimately all life on earth needs to flourish. In the long chain of life birds are as important as any other type of animal and individual species like the Chaffinch have a part to play in the complex planet that we inhabit. I wonder how many of the birds that Chaucer knew in England all those years ago will be known as wild to our great children, or will they be able to see them only in climate controlled aviaries or not at all.  

6 Responses

  1. Your chaffinch facts are extremely inaccurate – I think you must be getting them mixed up with goldfinches!

  2. Guilty as charged Mr Calvert and thanks for the correction!

  3. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  4. Sign: zdbrw Hello!!! nxybe and 9187ruxtqyxymf and 7298 : I love your blog. 🙂 I just came across your blog.

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