Colorado birds face increased risk of habitat loss

Noah Pasley

Bird lovers on campus might be sad to know they could hear less chirping in the future.

Several Colorado birds face significant habitat loss due to global warming, according to a new report by the National Audubon Society. The report, titled Survival by Degrees, indicates that as many as 57 species in the Larimer County area are highly vulnerable in a 3 degrees Celsius warming scenario. 


The study indicates that many sparrows in the Fort Collins area face the risk of losing over 50% of their current range, including Colorado’s state bird, the Lark Bunting. The nearly 60% decline in the grasslands is indicative of a countrywide crisis, research associate Jacob Job said. 

“It’s the hardest-hit ecosystem out of all the ecosystems in the country or actually in the continent,” Job said.

In addition to his research with Colorado State University’s Sound and Light Ecology Team, Job has worked as a natural sounds recordist for 4 1/2 years, starting with recordings in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

“The goal was to record all the songbirds in the park,” he said of the recordings he has taken of birds, such as thrushes and chickadees, in the park. 

A lot of the loss, both in habitat and in population, is caused by urbanization and an increase in agriculture, as well as the massive communities that have popped up along the Front Range, Job said. 

“A lot of people will think, ‘Okay, that’s a bird problem,'” Job said. “Well, it’s a human problem. It’s an all-of-us problem. As these things start … to disappear, so does our ability to live here in healthy, sustainable ways.”

Another expert on the crisis is Kristen Ruegg, a professor at CSU. Ruegg also serves as the director of the Bird Genoscape Project, an effort to map the migratory patterns of population-specific birds across America.

The same genomic information used to track the populations is also used to understand how birds may or may not be able to adapt to changing climate conditions, Ruegg said.

She said that she wasn’t happy to hear that so many birds are in danger, but she is pleased that the message of the report was so clear.

“It was like a relief that the paper was finally bringing together what we, as individual scientists, have known was going on for decades,” Ruegg said. “The thing that’s really hard is waking the larger public up.” 


Ruegg also said the most important thing is to go out and start paying attention and developing a better understanding of the natural world.

“People won’t conserve what they don’t love; they won’t conserve what they don’t know about,” Ruegg said. “The great thing about bird-watching is that you don’t have to go far.”

She recommends putting up a bird feeder or, for students who don’t have the capacity for that, just walking around campus and trying to listen. 

“See if you can hear juncos or chickadees; … it’s kind of a fun game,” Ruegg said, recommending a walk in the CSU Environmental Learning Center or even the Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins.

Noah Pasley can be reached at or on Twitter @PasleyNoah.