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Symbols Take Wing: As Habitats Shrink, State Birds Head Elsewhere

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The birds are being pushed out. A new Audubon Society study found that bird habitats are shrinking like crazy because of climate change. Gary Langham led the study.

GARY LANGHAM: It's sobering - isn't it? - that as many as half the birds in the continental U.S. and Canada could lose half their geographic range by the end of the century.

RATH: Gary has a dramatic title - chief scientist for the National Audubon Society.

LANGHAM: Someone asked me if I was going to keep that title, and I said, yes, I am.

RATH: So as chief scientist, Gary led a team of other scientists, and together, they sifted through mounds of the yearly bird data collected by ordinary bird-loving folk from all over North America. They already knew that as winters get warmer on average, a lot of birds move north, but the new data predicted something state legislatures might find alarming.

LANGHAM: Under our new study, eight birds that are state birds are projected to move so far that they won't be in those states anymore.

RATH: Louisiana's brown pelican, Pennsylvania's roughed grouse, the wood thrush of Washington, D.C.

LANGHAM: One familiar bird that is projected to lose range is the Baltimore oriole. That is the state bird of Maryland. And what the model suggests is that by the end of the century, this familiar backyard bird would no longer be in Maryland.

RATH: But what if, for some strange reason, you just don't care about birds?

LANGHAM: We're from Audubon, so, of course, we think that you should care about birds. But if you don't care about birds, the other reason is as the birds go, so does everything else. This should be a wake-up call for all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ORIOLE'S MAGIC")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Orioles magic - feel it happen. O-R-I-O-L-E-S. Magic, magic, magic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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