Researchers See Bad News for Birds on Farms

They're more vulnerable to extreme heat than their cousins in the forest
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 19, 2023 2:38 PM CDT
Researchers See Bad News for Birds on Farms
A house sparrow is seen with an insect in its beak in Lutherville-Timonium, Md. As climate change intensifies heat, farms are becoming less hospitable to many nesting birds, including the house sparrow, a new study found.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

As climate change intensifies extreme heat, farms are becoming less hospitable to nesting birds, a new study found. Researchers who examined data on over 150,000 nesting attempts found that birds in agricultural lands were 46% less likely to successfully raise at least one chick when it got really hot than birds in other areas, per the AP. "I don't think we expected it to be as extreme as it was," said Katherine Lauck, a PhD candidate at University of California, Davis, and lead author of the study published Thursday in the journal Science. Bird scientists have been tracking the decline of avian wildlife for years. In 2019, a comprehensive study showed that there were 3 billion fewer wild birds than in 1970. The new study represents a closer look at what might be behind the dramatic decline.

Intense commercial farming is known to harm birds—fields completely clear of trees and other natural barriers lack shelter for wildlife, and pesticides and other agricultural chemicals can hurt birds. The study concluded that species of higher conservation concern in the US—those closer to being listed as federally threatened or endangered—were more vulnerable to extreme heat events in agricultural settings. Across the board, birds in forests were 14% more likely to achieve reproductive success in times of extreme heat. David Bird, a professor emeritus of wildlife biology at McGill University, said the study contributes to the understanding of the negative effects of intensive single crop farming.

The study "sings the praises of the need for preserving our forests," which not only protect birds from hot weather but also help protect ecosystems from global warming by absorbing carbon, he said. It also suggests that if farmers purposefully left just a little more natural space around farms with a few trees or native plants—not necessarily changing everything about their operations—birds could better coexist with humans, said Ken Rosenberg, a biologist with the Road to Recovery initiative. "Some of these open country birds don't really need a lot of habitat or a lot of space," he said. "They just need some."

(More birds stories.)

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