Drought and depleted natural water supplies in the central and eastern parts of Africa have severely threatened the continent’s migratory bird populations. About ten percent of Africa’s over 2,000 bird species, including dozens of migratory birds, are in danger. Of these, 28 are considered “critically endangered,” including the Madagascar fish eagle, the Taita falcon, and hooded vultures. Environmental organization BirdLife International found that more than a third of these species are especially susceptible to climate change and extreme weather.
Frightening Climate Change
Many migratory species are now endangered or forced to completely alter their migration patterns by settling in cooler northern regions due to the hotter and drier conditions brought on by climate change that are destroying their water sources and breeding grounds. Ken Mwathe, a policy coordinator for BirdLife, said, “Birds are being affected by climate change just like any other species. Due to their constant movement, which increases the likelihood that a site they depend on during their migration has been damaged somehow, migratory birds are more adversely impacted than other groups of birds.”
Over 2,600 sites for migratory birds can be found along the African-Eurasian flyway, a route that birds fly through the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert during the winter. According to a study conducted by the United Nations environment agency and the conservation organization Wetlands International, approximately 87% of African sites are at risk from climate change, a higher percentage than Europe or Asia. According to Evans Mukolwe, a retired meteorologist who served as the World Meteorological Organization’s science director, Africa is more susceptible to climate change because it is less able to adapt. It is more challenging for the continent to protect habitats for wild species due to “poverty, biodiversity degradation, extreme weather events, lack of capital, and access to new technologies,” according to Mukolwe. Temperatures are rising, and there is less rain due to human-caused climate change, which causes the vital wetland habitats and water sources that birds depend on when migrating to become smaller.
Mwathe gave the example of Lake Chad. “Birds stop by Lake Chad on their way from one hemisphere to the other before crossing the Sahara. But Lake Chad has been getting smaller over time,” he said, “which makes it harder for birds to survive there.” Paul Matiku, executive director of Nature Kenya, explained that parched birds have more arduous journeys, affecting their reproduction capacity. Flamingos, which typically breed in Lake Natron in Tanzania, may not be able to do so “if the migration journey is too rough,” according to Matiku. “Flamingoes require water to make mud nests that shield their eggs from the intense heat of the dry ground, so without it, breeding will not occur in those wetlands,” he continued.
Non-migratory birds are also being impacted by climatic changes. Sub-Saharan African fish eagles now need to travel further to find food. Protea canaries and Cape Rockjumpers are drastically dwindling in number in South Africa. According to the findings of the most recent study conducted by the expert climate panel of the United Nations, certain bird species that inhabit the world’s hottest and driest regions, such as the Kalahari Desert, located in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, are getting dangerously close to the “physiological limits” of their ability to survive. According to the report, the extreme heat is causing many birds to perish because it makes it difficult for them to search for food, resulting in their loss of mass.
Other Species Also in Danger
The populations of birds like African fish, eagles, and vultures are also being hampered by other dangers, such as the illegal wildlife trade, agriculture, the expansion of urban areas, and pollution, according to Matiku. According to the U.N. environmental agency, better land management initiatives that aid in restoring degraded wetlands and forests and safeguard areas from infrastructure, poaching, or logging will help preserve the most vulnerable species. Amos Makarau, the Africa regional director of the U.N. weather agency, said that since sea level rise and extreme weather events are expected to continue, coordinated efforts to increase water access and food security would benefit birds and other species. According to scientists, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in high-emitting countries, could also prevent future weather-related disasters.