Original Article

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 517-540

First online:

Potential effects of climate change on birds of the Northeast

  • N. L. RodenhouseAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Wellesley College Email author 
  • , S. N. MatthewsAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources, Ohio State UniversityU. S. Forest Service
  • , K. P. McFarlandAffiliated withConservation Biology Department, Vermont Institute of Natural Science
  • , J. D. LambertAffiliated withConservation Biology Department, Vermont Institute of Natural Science
  • , L. R. IversonAffiliated withU. S. Forest Service
  • , A. PrasadAffiliated withU. S. Forest Service
  • , T. S. SillettAffiliated withSmithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park
  • , R. T. HolmesAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

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We used three approaches to assess potential effects of climate change on birds of the Northeast. First, we created distribution and abundance models for common bird species using climate, elevation, and tree species variables and modeled how bird distributions might change as habitats shift. Second, we assessed potential effects on high-elevation birds, especially Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli), that may be particularly vulnerable to climate change, by using statistical associations between climate, spruce-fir forest vegetation and bird survey data. Last, we complemented these projections with an assessment of how habitat quality of a migratory songbird, the black-throated blue warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) might be affected by climate change. Large changes in bird communities of the Northeast are likely to result from climate change, and these changes will be most dramatic under a scenario of continued high emissions. Indeed, high-elevation bird species may currently be at the threshold of critical change with as little as 1°C warming reducing suitable habitat by more than half. Species at mid elevations are likely to experience declines in habitat quality that could affect demography. Although not all species will be affected adversely, some of the Northeast’s iconic species, such as common loon and black-capped chickadee, and some of its most abundant species, including several neotropical migrants, are projected to decline significantly in abundance under all climate change scenarios. No clear mitigation strategies are apparent, as shifts in species’ abundances and ranges will occur across all habitat types and for species with widely differing ecologies.


Bicknell’s thrush Catharus bicknelli Bird species modeling Climate change Black-throated blue warbler Dendroica caerulescens Habitat High elevation Northeast Northern hardwoods Spruce-fir Random forests