Photostory: Climate change and Vermont’s birds

Editor’s note: The Underground Workshop is a collaborative network of student journalists from across Vermont. We’re eager to work with student photographers to help them tell stories with their work. For more information please email Ben Heintz, the Workshop’s editor, at [email protected]

A cedar waxwing in Reading, summer 2021. Photo by Rue Stahl

Photographs and text by Rue Stahl, Woodstock Union High School

Of the birds photographed for this article, the black and white warbler was the hardest to capture on film. This warbler, until recently, wasn’t specified as a warbler. It used to be called the black and white creeper, part of the creeper family. It moves up and down trees looking for food, scrounging through the forest floor, making it challenging to photograph.

If temperatures in Vermont rise 3 degrees celsius in the next 40 years, scientists predict that the black and white warbler and many other species will start migrating out of our state.

There is still hope that this will not occur. Doug Morin, a wildlife biologist from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, said there are ways to protect the habitat of these birds.

Morin said that even building one house in the center of an open plain will impact the entire environment.

“If I could wave my magic wand, it would be coordinated land use planning,” he said. “If we build in a more concentrated area, instead of building a house every ten acres.”

Thank you to Doug Morin, and to the Audubon Society for publishing a detailed resource about vulnerable birds in Vermont.

This photo of a black and white warbler was taken in Perkinsville in May 2021. It is expected that these birds will move almost entirely out of Vermont and most of New England due to increased heavy rainfall, spring heatwaves and urbanization destroying their habitat.

In addition, rising temperatures would result in spring heatwaves, bringing increased bug populations, which could cause higher infections and diseases for these birds. For example, the West Nile virus can be transmitted to birds through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Sadly, the blackburnian warbler is also being significantly affected by climate change. This bird is pretty common in the New England area. Still, if the temperature does not stop rising, this bird would most likely move further up into Canada and eventually as far up as Greenland after 2050.

So far, the barred owl is one of the birds least affected by climate change. However, the warmer temperatures during the day and freezing temperatures at night cause the top layer of snow to freeze, making hearing and finding food to eat challenging. This is caused by the rapid shifts in temperature from day to night.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is not as affected by climate change as one might think. They prefer warmer weather. However, even though hummingbirds choose warmer weather, if the temperatures get too hot, they will go into a hibernation-like phase and stop eating. This is because they don’t like extreme temperatures.

The northern flicker is a moderately affected bird. The most dangerous factor for these birds is spring heatwaves leading to forest fires.

This chestnut-sided warbler was taken near the North Branch of the Black River in Reading on May 9, 2021. Unfortunately, this bird is one of the most affected by climate change.

If temperatures rise, this bird is projected to move out of the state and country entirely. Increased spring temperatures, heavy rainfall and urbanization would make the chances of their chicks’ survival very low.

The chestnut-sided warbler is not the most affected warbler. State Wildlife Biologist Doug Morin said species like the blackpoll warbler are impacted the most because they live in higher elevation habitats, which are more influenced by climate change.

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Filed under:

Energy & Environment

Tags: climate change, endangered birds, migratory birds, photography, photojournalism, student journalism, Vermont birds, Woodstock Union High School

Underground Workshop

About Underground Workshop

The Underground Workshop is a collaborative community of student journalists from across Vermont, reporting and publishing for VTDigger’s statewide audience, and made possible by the Rowland Foundation. The Workshop gathers on zoom every other Thursday night, with student work at the center of each meeting. Any student is welcome to attend and can submit work at any time in a range of formats: feature stories, news briefs, Q&A’s, photostories, etc. We are also eager to work with teachers to develop projects for their students. For more information please contact Ben Heintz, the Workshop’s editor, at [email protected]