MOBASA, Kenya (AP) — Africa’s migratory birds are threatened by changing weather patterns in the center and east of the continent that have depleted natural water systems and triggered a devastating drought.
Warmer and drier conditions due to climate change are making it difficult for species to travel that are losing their water sources and breeding grounds, with many now endangered or forced to completely change their establishment migration patterns to colder northern regions.
About 10% of Africa’s more than 2,000 bird species, including dozens of migratory birds, are threatened, with 28 species – such as the Madagascar eagle, Taita falcon and hooded vultures – classified as ‘critically endangered’. More than a third of them are particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events, according to an analysis by environmental group BirdLife International.
“Birds are affected by climate change just like any other species,” said BirdLife Policy Coordinator Ken Mwathe. “Migratory birds are more affected than other groups of birds because they have to keep moving,” which makes it more likely that a site they rely on during their journey has been degraded in some way.
The African-Eurasian Flyway, the flyway for birds that travel south through the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert in winter, is home to over 2,600 sites for migratory birds. An estimated 87% of African areas are at risk from climate change, more than in Europe or Asia, according to a study by the United Nations environment agency and conservation group Wetlands International.
Africa is more vulnerable to climate change because it is less able to adapt, said Evans Mukolwe, a retired meteorologist and science director at the World Meteorological Organization.
“Poverty, biodiversity degradation, extreme weather events, lack of capital and access to new technologies” make it harder for the continent to protect habitats for wildlife, Mukolwe said.
Warmer temperatures due to human-induced climate change and less rainfall are shrinking key wetland areas and water sources that birds rely on during migratory journeys.
“Lake Chad is an example,” Mwathe said. “Before the birds cross the Sahara, they stop by Lake Chad and then move to the northern or southern hemisphere. But Lake Chad is shrinking over the years,” which jeopardizes its ability to support the birds, he said.
Dried birds mean more difficult travel, which impacts their ability to breed, said Paul Matiku, executive director of Nature Kenya.
Flamingos, for example, that normally breed in Lake Natron in Tanzania are unlikely to be able to “if the migration journey is very difficult,” Matiku said.
He added that “the lack of water in these wetlands means there will be no breeding,” as flamingos need water to build mud nests that keep their eggs away from the intense heat of the dry ground.
Non-migratory birds are also struggling with a changing climate. African ospreys, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, are now forced to travel further in search of food. Cape Rockjumpers and South African Protea canaries are declining significantly.
Bird species living in the hottest and driest regions, such as the Kalahari Desert that straddles Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, are approaching their “normal limits”, the latest assessment by the UN’s climate panel has said. . He added that birds are less able to find food and lose body mass, causing large-scale deaths for those living in extreme heat.
“Forest habitats are getting warmer with climate change and … habitats are drying out and savannah birds are deprived of food because grass never produces seeds, flowers never harvest and insects never emerge like when it rains,” said Matiku.
Other threats, such as illegal wildlife trade, agriculture, urban development and pollution, also hold back populations of birds such as African ospreys and vultures, he said.
Better land management projects that help restore degraded wetlands and forests and protect areas from infrastructure, poaching or logging will help conserve the most vulnerable species, the UN environment agency said.
Birds and other species will benefit from concerted efforts to improve access to water and food security, especially as sea levels and extreme weather events are set to continue, said Amos Makarau, Africa Regional Director of the Meteorological Service of UN.
Scientists say curbing emissions of global-warming gases, especially in high-emitting countries, could also limit future weather-related disasters.
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