What is Season Creep?
Season creep, an informal term for climate change, refers to the gradual changing in the timing of seasons. You may have seen early signs of spring such as the appearance of buds on trees earlier than they’ve seen them in the past. Warming temperatures, shifting seasons, changing precipitation, and rising sea levels—all climate change related issues—disturb bird behaviors and the ecosystems that sustain them.
Climate scientists have recorded significant temporal trends from the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. In Europe, scientists have observed season creep causing the arrival of spring a week earlier than it did thirty years ago.
At Risk Birds
The effects of season creep are becoming more noticeable. It’s vital that we protect birds by taking steps to slow season creep and climate change. Birds that depend on high-elevation forest habitat, long distance migrants, and coastal breeders are most at risk. Some of these species are already seeing the effects of season creep.
High-Elevation Forest Birds
As the climate continues to warm, scientists are seeing marked changes to the forest bird community. Forests of northern hardwood trees, such as oak, hickory, and pine, will be the most affected by rising temperature and shifting precipitations. Trees are the backbone of forest ecosystems that birds rely on for survival. With a decrease in these trees, birds may lose their habitat at a rate they can’t keep up with.
Long Distance Migrants
More than half of long distant breeding species of birds will be highly vulnerable to season creep. With northern hardwoods being hardest hit, for example, bird species that breed in New England are declining more rapidly than the resident species of the area. This is because migrating species of birds are unable to adjust their migration schedule with the shift in peak food abundance. Simply put, if fruiting shrubs peak two weeks before migrating birds arrive, when these long distant migrants arrive at their destination, food sources will already be depleted.
Coastal Breeding Birds
Almost sixty percent of coastal breeding birds are considered highly vulnerable to the effects of season creep. Of all birds, these are the most threatened by climate change. Rising sea levels have been in the news for several years. Still, few people realize how higher sea levels reduce available nesting areas for coastal and salt marsh nesting birds. As storms continue to get stronger and more destructive, beaches and marshes are becoming flooded, stressing these species of birds.
Additionally, most of the carbon we humans emit ends up in the ocean. With that excess carbon, oceans become more acidic and uninhabitable for marine life that coastal birds depend on for food.
Take Simple Steps to Help Slow Season Creep
You can take small, gradual steps to do your share toward helping slow season creep. Consider the following ideas:
- Use energy wisely. Use energy efficient light bulbs, unplug electronics when not in use, wash clothes in cold water, dry clothes on a line, install a programmable thermostat, buy Energy Star appliances, and winterize your home to keep heat from escaping in winter.
- Eat for a stable climate. Consider eating fewer meals with meat, support local farmers, or try growing some of your own food.
- Commute for a healthy climate. Use public transit, ride a bike, share a ride, or consider a hybrid or electric vehicle.
Backyard birdwatchers already do so much for birds, just by making their backyards a safe and nourishing haven for feathered visitors.
If you’re concerned about what climate change will do to your backyard visitors, understanding season creep is the first step to making a change. With the simple steps above, you can feel confident that you are doing your part. Protecting today’s birds will help ensure future generations will be able to enjoy birds in their backyards.