A Bird’s Tale

From Maine to Glasgow

Wed, 11/03/2021 - 8:15am

Glasgow, Scotland is a long, long way from us here in Maine—about 2,800 miles to be exact. Paradoxically, decisions made by people meeting over the coming days in Glasgow will have an impact right down to your own backyard.

Those decisions will chart the possible futures for us and everything else on earth.

The City of Glasgow, if you hadn’t heard, is hosting the next big official United Nations climate change meeting, otherwise known as COP26 (26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

World leaders assembled there may not know the story of Maine’s Atlantic Puffins. The southernmost breeding outpost of the species on the Atlantic Coast of North America is right on nearby Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay. But the warming ocean waters of the Maine coast are changing what species of fish can survive and thrive here. Puffins often struggle to find fish that their chicks can eat. Sometimes the only option that they can find is a warmwater species like the butterfish. Sadly, even small butterfish are usually too wide for a puffin chick to swallow.

Will world leaders in Glasgow know of the collapse of the Maine winter shrimp industry? How well we remember the abundance of shrimp formerly available during the coldest days of the year. Fresh-off-the-boat shrimp could be purchased from roadside sellers just about everywhere in the state. What a treat it was to boil them up, peel them, and eat them with family and friends huddled around the kitchen table during those dark early nights of February. The younger generation may not ever have that authentically Maine experience as climate change has pushed shrimp farther north so they don’t occur in numbers here anymore.

How many COP26 negotiators will have heard of the saltmarsh sparrow, a bird whose entire existence depends on successfully nesting in the space between low tide and a few above high tide in the confines of the saltmarshes from Maine south to North Carolina?

Sea level rise as a result of climate change means that more and more often, there are tidal surges that blast through those saltmarshes, destroying nests and drowning nestlings. The saltmarshes themselves are expected to disappear in many places, leaving no place for saltmarsh sparrows to even try to nest.

In the Glasgow meeting rooms, will there be mention of the likelihood that Maine could see the complete loss of birds like boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, and Canada jay from the state’s avifauna without urgent action to slow the rate of climate change?

The good news is that there will be many people at the COP26 meetings in Glasgow that do know about climate change impacts like those we see and expect to see here in Maine and everywhere in the world. But there is no doubt that the ultimate decision makers in every nation on earth need to hear even more clearly from all of us that we want change to happen even more quickly. We need more ambitious goals to be, not only promised, but met by the world’s wealthiest nations. Here in the U.S., we need our elected officials to pass budget legislation that will provide many large-scale solutions to slow climate change and its impacts. Let our Maine leaders know by taking action the website of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Just click the link here: https://www.nrcm.org/take-action/

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).