Bad News Birds

Look! Up there, in the sky: It’s a plane, it’s a bird…oh wait, nevermind, it’s nothing at all.

For the past two years, scientists found that some species of marine birds were disappearing from skies and washing up dead on shores.  Unfortunately for our feathered friends, this year is no exception: Hundreds of seabirds like murres, Cassin’s and rhinoceres auklets, and horned puffins were found dead on beaches in California, Oregon, and Washington in March. The birds met their untimely demises from starvation, but researchers believe that the lack of food was the result of—you guessed it—climate change.

From a San Francisco Chronicle article:

Bill Sydeman, the director of marine ecology at PRBO Conservation Science, a Bay Area group that specializes in avian research, said the deaths are worrisome because it now appears they are not isolated events.  In the past two years, the winter deaths were followed by less successful breeding at the Farallon Islands, one of the West Coast’s most productive seabird rookeries, he said.


“I would not be surprised to see the same thing this year,” Sydeman said.

Many scientists believe the lack of food for seabirds is the result of ocean current changes caused by global warming. 

Fluctuations in the current in recent years appear to have resulted in regions of warmer water that support less plankton, Sydeman said. That can also reduce upwelling, a seasonal phenomenon that results in the replacement of warmer water along the Pacific Coast with cold, nutrient-laden offshore water.

Since plankton is an integral part of marine food webs (like say, Cheerios and cheese pizza is to the American food web), a loss of plankton means a loss in the fish that feed on it, which are the mainstay of seabirds’ diet. 

Climate change is enough to stress anyone out, both birds and humans included. But unfortunately for those seabirds, they can’t snack their troubles away like us nervous-eating Plenty staffers do.