We've Been Invaded

Bohemian waxwings in a spring mountain ash tree

Bohemian waxwings in a spring mountain ash tree

The yard this morning is filled with hundreds of Bohemian waxwings. They’re in all the trees, all the bushes and on the fences. It’s noisy out there! They have temporarily displaced a yard full of American robins who are not quiet this time of year either.

It’s been a great winter for the waxwings in Canada, as huge flocks have been reported in many provinces in the last few weeks. We’ve always had them in the yard, but never in such large numbers. There isn’t a berry left on any mountain ash tree for miles.

I was reading an interesting article this morning about the bird population in North America  shifting north. It seems they had more than 22,000 Bohemian waxwings in Anchorage, Alaska for their Christmas bird count, more than any other bird species.

Long-term global warming is prompting North American birds to winter farther north, according to the Audubon Society:

  • the American robin in now wintering 200 miles further north than it used to
  • birds that winter in Alaska that shifted their range the greatest distance north included the marbled murrelet, 361 miles; spruce grouse, 316 miles; red-breasted nuthatch, 244 miles; varied thrush, 229 miles
  • Texas now has fewer robins each winter, while New Hampshire has five times more

As the northern climate warms, the vegetation responds accordingly. While on the surface this influx of southern birds might make northern birders happy, there is a limit.

Northern species dependent on shore ice or northern tundra — both of which have been shrinking in recent years — aren’t as fortunate. Birds that nest on the tundra have nowhere further north to go. Birds like dunlins, sandpipers and murrelets could be in real trouble. The population of Kittlitz murrelets in Prince William Sound has declined by 84 percent over 11 years.

Things are changing drastically in bird world. No one knows how fast birds can adapt to the changing conditions, but we can at least be happy the Bohemian waxwing is a long way from being listed as an endangered species.

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