MOMBASA, Kenya — Africa’s migratory birds are threatened by changing weather patterns in the center and east of the continent that have depleted natural water systems and caused a devastating drought.

Hotter and drier conditions due to climate change are making it harder for traveling species to lose their water sources and breeding grounds, with many now threatened or forced to change their migration patterns entirely as they go. settling in cooler northern regions.

About 10% of Africa’s more than 2,000 bird species, including dozens of migratory birds, are threatened, with 28 species – such as the Madagascar fish eagle, Taita falcon and scavenger vultures – listed as “critically endangered”. More than a third of them are particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather, according to an analysis by environmental group BirdLife International.

“Birds are affected by climate change like any other species,” said BirdLife policy coordinator Ken Mwathe. “Migratory birds are more affected than other groups of birds because they have to keep moving,” making it more likely that a site they rely on during their journey has degraded in some way.

The African-Eurasian Flyway, the flight corridor for birds that travel south through the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert for the winter, is home to more than 2,600 sites for migrating birds. It is estimated that 87% of African sites are threatened by climate change, a higher proportion than in Europe or Asia, according to a study by the United Nations environment agency and the conservation group Wetlands International.

Africa is more vulnerable to climate change because it is less able to adapt, said Evans Mukolwe, a retired meteorologist and scientific director of the World Meteorological Organization.

“Poverty, biodiversity degradation, extreme weather events, lack of capital and access to new technologies” make it harder for the continent to protect wildlife habitats, Mukolwe said.

Higher temperatures due to human-caused climate change and less rainfall are reducing key wetlands and water sources, which birds depend on on their migratory journeys.

“Lake Chad is an example,” Mwathe said. “Before the birds cross the Sahara, they stop at Lake Chad and then move on to the northern or southern hemisphere. But Lake Chad has shrunk over the years,” compromising its ability to sustain the birds, he said.

Desiccated birds mean more difficult journeys, which impacts their ability to breed, said Paul Matiku, executive director of Nature Kenya.

Flamingos, for example, which normally breed in Lake Natron in Tanzania, are unlikely to be able to do so “if the migratory journey is too difficult”, Matiku said.

He added that ‘not having water in these wetlands means breeding will not take place’, as flamingos need water to create mud nests which keep their eggs away from the intense heat of the dry ground.

Non-migratory birds are also struggling with climate change. African fish eagles, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, are now forced to travel further afield in search of food. The number of Cape Rockjumpers and South African Protea canaries is down sharply.

Bird species living in the hottest and driest areas, such as the Kalahari Desert that stretches across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, are approaching their “physiological limits”, according to the latest assessment of the UN climate panel. He added that the birds are less able to find food and lose body mass, causing large-scale deaths for those living in extreme heat.

“Forest habitats are getting warmer with climate change and… arid land habitats are getting drier and savannah birds are starving for food because grass never has seeds, flowers never have fruit and bugs never emerge like they do when it rains,” Matiku said.

Other threats, such as the illegal wildlife trade, agriculture, growing urban areas and pollution, are also slowing populations of birds like African fish eagles and vultures, he said. .

Better land management projects that help restore degraded wetlands and forests and protect areas from infrastructure, poaching or logging will help preserve the most vulnerable species, the United Nations environmental agency said. United Nations.

Birds and other species would benefit from concerted efforts to improve water access and food security, especially as rising sea levels and extreme weather events are expected to continue, said Amos Makarau, Regional Director for Africa of the United Nations Meteorological Agency.

Scientists say that reducing emissions of gases that warm the planet, especially in high-emitting countries, could also limit future weather-related disasters.


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