Amid California’s Drought, Raptors Are Having One Of The Worst Breeding Seasons On Record

By Katie Valentine


CREDIT: Shutterstock

Ongoing drought in California is threatening to dry up crops and has led to hikes in food prices, but it’s also having a major impact on key parts of the California ecosystem: namely, raptors.

As Accuweather reports, lack of water is causing grass that serves as habitat for the insects and small mammals that raptors feed on to dry up, which is leading to a drop in the numbers of these prey creatures and in turn has led to “emaciated” hawks and owls. This lack of food means many owls and hawk pairs aren’t laying eggs, which means this breeding season could end up being one of the worst on record, Andrea Jones of the California Audubon Society told Accuweather.

“Birds are just not nesting,” she said. “They’re not laying eggs.”

Jones said Audubon is trying to figure out a way for water to be available for both raptors and for California’s farmers. She also said it wasn’t just raptors that have been impacted by the lack of rain — songbirds and waterfowl, too, have taken a hit from lack of water, though Jones said she won’t be able to know just how many birds have perished due to the drought until next fall.

Right now, the entire state of California is in severe to exceptional drought. Studies have shown that climate change has and likely will continue to exacerbate drought in many parts of the world.

Still, it’s not just drought that’s impacting raptors and other birds — other climatic forces are also making life hard for these creatures. Last year, a study found that heavy rain in the Canadian Arctic is killing peregrine falcon chicks and could ultimately contribute to a long-term decline in reproductive success of the population studied. The study found the increase in heavy downpours — a weather event that’s also been linked to climate change — has drowned peregrine falcon chicks. Study co-author Alastair Franke said the risk climate change poses to these birds hasn’t been seen since DDT caused the raptor population to collapse in 1970.

“As big a problem as DDT was, it was relatively easy to solve,” Franke said. “All we had to do was ban DDT. Reversing the inertia associated with climate change is far more difficult.”

Penguin chicks in Argentina, too, have been found to be suffering from multiple effects of climate change, with heavy rains, strong storms and heat killing off varying numbers of chicks every year. And migratory birds are also facing major challenges from climate change. Earlier springs, or springs with weather that’s warm one week and then freezing the next, are making it difficult for birds to line up their migrations to when the weather, plant, tree bloom, and insect outburst is perfect for their spring arrival. That mismatch is causing pelican chicks that travel to North Dakota to breed to freeze to death.


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