Cardinal

As a result of climate change, the range of the cardinal has extended north.

The sky was as dark, as on many nights, though it was mid-morning when I drove out.

Rain started after I’d gone just a few miles. It started with giant rain drops, the biggest rain drops I have ever seen, each the size of a chicken’s egg. The drops quickly became a downpour, a torrent, so heavy it was difficult to see the car ahead of me, even with my windshield wipers as fast as they would go and my headlights on.

Traffic slowed to a crawl.

As I drove, straining to see the car ahead, I thought of the birds, as I often do no matter what the weather. Most would have taken shelter, some in holes in trees and in bird houses, many in the leafy foliage of trees and bushes. Other animals would have taken shelter too, deer, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs and toads, snakes and turtles, insects, ants, flies, grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies and moths.

As the rain continued to pour down, I thought of the damage it would cause. There would be tree limbs down. There would be trees down. There would be flooding. Already there was water in the road in the low places I drove through.

Then I thought of the weather, not the present storm but the changing weather, climate change. The torrent I was driving in would end in half an hour, an hour. Climate change is a change in the composition of the atmosphere around the world, a change in the percent of carbon dioxide and other gasses in the air, a change that is continuing and presently without end.

There have been scientific reports of the change in the composition of the atmosphere. There have been scientific reports of the melting of the polar ice cap and of an increase in the temperature and the level of the oceans around the world. There have been reports of glaciers melting around the world.

I have personally seen a decrease in the number of glaciers in Glacier National Park.

Bird watchers of North America, and probably of Great Britain and Europe, have reported changes in bird distribution and number. Some species of birds have extended their range north. The cardinal is one example. When I was a boy, there were no cardinals in my hometown in northern Iowa, none until one was seen, just one block from my home. I saw it.

It was reported on the front page of the town newspaper. Now cardinals are common in that town and across northern Iowa and southern Minnesota.

The turkey vulture is another species of bird that has extended its range north. Tufted titmouse, Caroline chickadee and blue-gray gnatcatcher are others. Some birds that nest in our area but migrate south for the winter have also changed their habits. A robin in late February or early March in northern Iowa or northern Indiana used to be a sure sign of spring. Now I see robins in every month of the year, though they aren’t numerous in winter in northern Iowa where I lived as a boy or northern Indiana where I live now.

Plants have changed, also. Trees are opening buds, blossoming, spreading leaves earlier in spring. Spring wildflowers are blooming earlier. Grass in lawns needs to be mowed earlier in the spring.

The big change in bird life in North America however, and perhaps in other parts of the world, is a decrease in their number.

Christmas bird count figures, Spring bird counts, nesting bird counts, counts of flocks during migration, all indicate an overall decrease in the number of birds.

The decline in North America, according to a report by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, is 40%.

Neil Case may be reached at neilcase1931@gmail.com.

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