Down home with Climate Change

Thursday evening I attended a presentation at the DuPage Birding Club given by Doug Stotz, who is a Conservation Ornithologist with the Environmental Conservation Programs at the Field Museum in Chicago. Specifically the topic was climate change and its effect on Chicago birds. Ironically his talk was rescheduled due to a weather event.

We have all been so distracted by the abrupt changes in weather, it’s easy to forget how climate change is affecting everything else, and the interconnectedness of earth’s biological systems. For instance, Doug pointed out that because we had the early heat wave in March and the trees had leafed over, by the time the tropical migrants pass through Chicago in May, the normal abundance of early-leafing insects will be gone as the trees develop their natural immunity against them. So Doug predicted a less colorful spring migration. He also had a list of birds we could expect to not see after a while. I already remember thinking the last two years were not as birdy on the lakefront, so even in my casual observation, change was already occurring.

I’m thinking the disappearance this past winter and spring of American Goldfinches in my yard at my feeders, replaced by an unprecedented population of House Finches, must be due to climate change. The United States Department of Agriculture has a webpage with predictions of climate change effects on numerous species, the goldfinches among them. I didn’t expect the change to be so abrupt, but goldfinches have a varied seed diet, and apparently a year-round supply of niger in my yard isn’t all they require. I can remember talking to someone five years ago in Kansas City when I went down for orientation at the new firm where I work. He said he missed seeing goldfinches. I thought he must be crazy, they were all over my yard. Now I know he wasn’t crazy.

Henbit or Purple Deadnettle

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the plant life this spring. There’s an enormous amount of Henbit, also known as Purple Deadnettle, in my yard. While it is not considered an invasive species in Illinois, it’s certainly become invasive in my yard!

While I was out digging up weeds and cleaning up the dead stems a bit, I took a few pictures of the birds that were in the yard.

I have a pair of Robins who were attracted to my digging. Sadly, their numbers are predicted to decline from our area as well.

The Mourning Doves are numerous as ever. This is definitely evidence of a species that keeps creeping north. I can remember when I first started paying attention to birds that someone told me Mourning Doves never used to be in the Chicago area. That cooing song of the male still sounds like something out Tennessee Williams or Faulkner to me.

Mourning Doves

And of course the ubiquitous House Finches. It makes sense that a warmer climate is just what they need. I believe they originated in California.

Female House Finch

Male House Finch

I took a brief walk over at the Portage this afternoon to see if the strong southern winds had blown in anything new yet. I was unable to detect anything but the same suspects as in the past two weeks. I did hear a couple goldfinches singing, and later when I came home a bright flash of yellow darted in toward my feeders for a moment, so they’re not gone yet. But I already miss their cheerful abundance.

American Goldfinches 4-16-2009

And one more picture taken during our last big snow storm, in February of 2010.

American Goldfinches - Winter 2010