Dave Mehlman, the director of The Nature Conservancy’s migratory bird program, is blogging all week about the new “State of the Birds 2010″ report, of which he is a co-author. Read all his posts on the report — then go to my.nature.org to learn more about the report and the Conservancy’s work to protect birds.

The 2010 State of the Birds report focuses on birds and climate change, and shows that birds of Arctic and Alpine habitats are some of the most vulnerable in the country to climate change.

Documented temperature increases in the Arctic are already greater than in other regions — and we expect equally dramatic changes in the distribution of surface-water vegetation and food resources. Given that Alpine habitats are inherently insular in nature, we expect many of the effects of climate change on islands to be duplicated in Alpine areas, including the total loss of these habitats at lower elevations and latitudes.

Species affected by these changes including many of our long-distance migrating shorebirds and waterfowl, plus species restricted to the highest elevation habitats of the interior mountains. These include Surfbird and Black Turnstone, which breed on the Arctic tundra, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch of the Rocky Mountains.

Melting permafrost may release contaminants into the environment, adding new threats to those faced by Spectacled Eider, Yellow-billed Loon, and Sabine’s Gull.  Changes in the abundance and distribution of small mammals could lead to decreases in Snowy Owls and jaegers or an increase in their reliance on birds and other prey.

Although wetlands birds in general show relatively lower vulnerability to climate change compared to other habitat types, it is clear that even small changes in precipitation and temperature can degrade or eliminate wetlands over broad areas. This is especially true of the shallow wetlands of the Prairie Potholes, Americas “duck factory.”  Examples of species particularly vulnerable include Western and Clark’s Grebes, Northern Pintail, and Black and Clapper Rails.

(Image: Snowy owl against snow in Alberta, Canada. Image credit: BugMan50/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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  1. Melting permafrost may release contaminants into the environment? what kind of contaminants? are we talking gases?

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