WASHINGTON – Climate change is pushing some bird species "towards extinction," US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar warned Thursday as a new report on the threats facing North American birds was released.
"For well over a century, migratory birds have faced stresses," Salazar said. "Now they are facing a new threat -- climate change -- that could dramatically alter their habitat and food supply and push many species towards extinction."
Birds that depend upon the ocean for survival "are among the most vulnerable birds on Earth to climate change," warned the report put together by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in coordination with several environmental groups.
All 67 oceanic bird species, including albatrosses, petrels and puffins, are at particular risk because they produce few offspring each year and their habitats are most susceptible to climate change phenomena.
Species including the Laysan Albatross and the Bonin Petrel typically nest on very low-lying islands, which could disappear as sea levels rise.
Many Hawaiian birds, including the endangered Puaiohi and Akiapolaau, face multiple threats, including from mosquito-borne diseases and invasive species, as well as loss of habitat, the report warned.
But even less-threatened species, like the American oystercatcher -- a black and white bird with a long red bill -- the common nighthawk, and the northern pintail -- an ubiquitous type of duck, are likely to become "of conservation concern" because of climate change.
In mountainous and Arctic regions "increased temperatures will drastically alter surface water and vegetation," meaning species like the White-tailed Ptarmigan and rosy-finches "may disappear... as alpine tundra diminishes."
"Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change," said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of conservation science at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, a contributor to the report.
"Many species of conservation concern will face heightened threats, giving us an increased sense of urgency to protect and conserve vital bird habitat," he added.
Salazar said the Department of the Interior was working to develop practical strategies to manage the effects of climate change in eight regions and has set up Climate Science Centers in each region to coordinate and lead those efforts.
© AFP 2013