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Report: Climate Change Could Push State Bird Out Of New Hampshire

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A new study from the Audubon Society says climate change could push some state birds out of their home ranges – including New Hampshire’s purple finch.

The report, released Thursday in a major follow-up to a less detailed 2014 Audubon study, says even a moderate warming scenario could push the iconic finch out of much of New Hampshire.

But senior conservation biologist Pam Hunt with the state Audubon society cautions that the true climate picture for birds may be more complicated than that.

"Birds are like people,” she says. “We can – they can – survive pretty broad changes in temperature."

Unlike ocean-dwellers or heat-sensitive mammals like moose, she says many birds might be able to stay and adapt to their warmer climates.

But they face other serious risks related to the human encroachment and the effects of global warming. Floods, fires or more volatile weather can lead to habitat or food loss and other issues.

One example, Hunt says, is a cold wet spring that reduces birds’ available food supply of flying insects.

“Short-term events like that will cause down-spikes in productivity, maybe even [cause] mortality,” she says. “If those happen a lot, then that population will continue to decline.”

Hunt says New Hampshire’s state bird, the purple finch, is declining – but scientists still aren’t sure exactly why. Climate change may just be one part of the puzzle.

The local species she says are most directly vulnerable to climate change impacts are coastal – like the salt marsh sparrow. Hunt says its habitat may be inundated by rising seas and higher tides before the marshes have the time and room to expand.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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