Conservation Minnesota

Is the yellow-bellied sapsucker destined to be our new state bird?

Yellow-bellied_Sapsucker_TerryLorenc_FlickrCC_1Imagine a scenario in which Minnesota legislators were forced to change the Minnesota state bird from the Common Loon to the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Seem far-fetched?

Perhaps.  But if a recent study conducted by the Audubon Society is to be believed, there stands a chance that Minnesota will find itself in the market for a new state bird if evolving changes in the climate continue at the current pace.

Using three decades of data compiled and analyzed by their scientists, the Audubon report, which can be found at, tracks the winter and summer ranges of 588 breeds of birds. It identifies climactic suitability ranges for each bird, and then maps how those ranges will shift based on current scientific understanding.  The most concerning of the findings was that 314 of the birds studied will see at least half of their current ranges changed by century’s end.

And that list includes the Common Loon which will see its summer range shift north into Canada almost completely by 2050.  By 2080, there will be little to no trace of the state bird found anywhere within our borders during the summer months.  I say summer months, because the winter range for the loon, which is currently in the region around the Gulf of Mexico, will also start shifting north, and .  By 2080 Loons that once summered in the north woods and wintered along the Gulf Coast may find themselves spending summers in Canada, and winters in northern Iowa and extreme southern Minnesota.

And yes, the yellow-bellied sapsucker may soon be a staple of Minnesota birder’s checklists, as it should have a statewide reach, at least in the winters, by decade’s end.

The problem of changing bird habitats obviously doesn’t just affect Minnesota.  The country may also be in need of a new national bird if the trends continue. Removed from the endangered species list only seven years ago, the bald eagle is facing a loss of 73 percent of its current breeding range by 2080.

But before we take the advice of Benjamin Franklin and switch to the wild turkey as our national symbol, lets recognize that the report estimates the wild turkey is in more jeopardy that even the bald eagle.  The study suggests that the wild turkey will lose 87 percent of its current winter range by 2080.

Animated maps show how the habitats for the birds studied are expected to change between the years 2000, 2020, 2050 and 2080. The consistent view across all species is a northward shift of both the summer and winter ranges of all birds studied.

While the topic of climate change remains charged, more so in the political than in the scientific arena, this first-of-its-kind study deserves commendation and more importantly, our immediate attention.

About Paul Austin

Paul Austin
Paul Austin has 23 years of public service as an elected leader, advocate and political strategist, Paul Austin brings a rare combination of skills and experience to his position as Executive Director. At age 25, Paul was elected Mayor of Clinton, Connecticut – the youngest in state history. Paul has served as Executive Director of Conservation Minnesota since 2004.
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