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For Immediate Release, August 14, 2012

Contact:  Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Northeast Mountain Songbird Threatened by Climate Change Moves Closer to Federal Protection

RICHMOND, Vt.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a “90-day finding” that the Bicknell’s thrush, a northeastern songbird threatened by climate change, may warrant protection as an endangered species. The decision, which initiates a year-long status review, resulted from a landmark settlement with the Center in 2011 that is speeding up protection decisions for 757 species.

Bicknell's thrush
Photo by T. B. Ryder, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photos are available for media use.

“This year is the warmest on record in the Northeast, so the need to protect the Bicknell’s thrush couldn’t be more urgent,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center’s Northeast office.

Bicknell’s thrushes are olive-brown, migratory birds that nest in dense, coniferous forests near timberline in New York and New England and also breed in Quebec and Canada’s Maritime provinces. Scientists identified them as a distinct species in 1993.

The overriding threat to these mountain-dwelling birds is climate change. Widely accepted climate models show the species’ breeding habitat shrinking dramatically in the Northeast: Under a conservative scenario of roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit warming, the thrush’s U.S. habitat will be reduced by 48 percent to 66 percent. If the climate of the Northeast warms by approximately 6 degrees, the bird’s habitat will essentially disappear in the United States. Scientists have already documented 7 percent to 19 percent annual population declines in parts of the bird’s range.

Bicknell’s thrushes face a plethora of other threats in addition to climate change, including high-elevation development such as ski areas and wind energy, logging, and acid rain deposition and accumulation of mercury in the food chain, both linked to air pollution. The thrushes winter on a handful of islands in the Caribbean, where they have also lost significant amounts of habitat to deforestation and development.

“Fish and Wildlife has made the right decision to take a closer look at the plight of the Bicknell’s thrush — I hope it leads to full protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Matteson. “This modest-looking, sweet-singing bird is a bellwether of the future we all face in a rapidly warming world; we need to help other species to help ourselves.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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